When Eli Whitney built the cotton gin, the way it worked was no secret. He held a patent, but anyone looking at the machine could go home and build one. He had no way to protect his intellectual property (IP). As a result, competitors quickly cloned the cotton gin and Whitney was unable to capitalize on his invention.
Today, counterfeiting a machine is a little more complicated. A third party interested in creating a counterfeit of one OEM’s machine can look at the machine on a plant or trade show floor, and copy it bolt-for-bolt in their shop. However, that machine won’t complete the right actions. The potential counterfeiter needs the logic – the OEM’s valuable IP – hidden inside the machine’s controls. And if this logic is not adequately protected, the OEM’s fate could be the same as Eli Whitney’s.
Many OEMs undervalue their IP. They don’t give it much consideration or realize how at risk their machines are for being counterfeited.
But IP represents an OEM’s key differentiation in the marketplace. It’s what enables a machine to do a task better than competitors and allows OEMs to compete at more than just cost. A loss of IP could result in a spectrum of negative consequences, from losing one customer to going out of business. It’s more common than most of us realize – one in five manufacturers have suffered security breaches leading to IP loss (source: Kaspersky Lab/B2B International).
OEMs can take steps to protect their IP and maintain their competitive edge.
First, OEMs should evaluate their IP and understand its true value to their business. An OEM competing more on cost may find their IP is not the most valuable factor. But an OEM building machines with high margins and unique capabilities needs to determine what a loss of their IP would mean.
Once that’s determined, an OEM can make the appropriate investments to protect the entire chain of IP. IP content is at risk from brainstorming to development to deployment, and OEMs need to look at their system and secure any access to it during the entire design life cycle. They should invest in protection of documents, testing results, prototypes, automation project files and physical access to company buildings.
OEMs should also invest in IP protection methods to control access once the machine is deployed. There are a range of options depending on the determined value of the IP and the OEM’s needs. For OEMs who want simple control over IP access, they can implement password-based source protection to the logic programming. A second option is security software, which offers more flexible, manageable policies around logic access. For example, the FactoryTalk® Security mechanisms from Rockwell Automation built into FactoryTalk software help manage an insider threat by authenticating users and authorizing a pre-determined level of access to automation devices.
OEMs who need the most secure option for their IP can soon implement license-based source protection, which will be available from Rockwell Automation later this year. With this protection method, OEMs can restrict access to certain parts of the logic programming by encrypting it with a license. The license is held on a secure USB device, making it more difficult for a third party to access IP content even if they gain the files.
OEMs work hard to build innovative machines that can do what others cannot. We’ve come a long way since the cotton gin, and OEMs have more options to protect their IP. They should invest in the right security solutions to protect their competitive edge and grow their business.