Design Theft and Attribution

15 July, 2013 04:31PM ยท 3 minute read

An Author signs their work for novels, essays, journalism article, as does any artist, as does any Engineer. The difference in Engineering is that sometimes the responsibility of cost or personal injury mistakes goes with that signature but inevitably that is the playground in which engineers choose to play. Why is it then that so often it is deemed okay to change the name after it has been designed?

The designer of a system may well copy something from another, similar system, but the moment they put their name on it, the full responsibility of its success or failure lies with them. There needs to be traceability of where it started for legal reasons but also so that the original designer(s) can be tracked down if necessary to ask key questions that may include, “What the hell were you thinking?” and/or “Which CornFlakes packet did you rip this off of?”.

Seriously though, traceability matters. For this reason drawing title blocks and documents should have an Original Designer/Author field that is never changed, with each subsequent revision in a separate table that lists the revision number/letter, the names of those making the changes and a brief description of the changes made. Many such documents do but that isn’t just ‘problem solved.’ Who is allowed to write their names in the boxes needs to be controlled. An example: A pressing deadline requires that the drawing is submitted today, but to pass through the document release system it requires the sign-off of the original designer, alas they are sick today and won’t be back until next week. Too often the easy path is taken and someone handy fills their name in the box and signs it instead. After that and for all time someone else’s name is in the box and original designer gets no attribution. I’ve seen scenarios including this, but also the designer is: temporarily assigned to another project, team leads pulling rank/seniority and management reallocating design throughout the team, as several other examples of real-world scenarios in which it is done.

So why change the names at all? Surely one can leave the original name and sign by another authority with documented permission to sign, in their absence? Indeed some companies have this however the state of document control systems and drafting procedures varies and recently I’ve even been told this is not acceptable - the signature MUST match the name.

Irrespective of whether it’s the easy way out for whatever the reason; irrespective of whether it’s a failing of a badly defined document-control system; and irrespective of whether the document structure is setup correctly to accommodate good originator and revision controls, there remains one HUGE issue.


No differently than if another Author copies whole or any part of any of my posts without attribution then it is called plagiarism, how is it possibly okay to take someone else’s design work and put your name on it? It’s theft. Design theft pure and simple.

The shocking truth is that whenever I’ve brought this up with other Engineers the normal response seems to be one of surprise that I would care. What stuns me is that not enough other engineers care about it. I don’t steal other peoples work and I expect the same in return. Alas deals with the universe don’t seem to pan out that well in reality but I can live in hope that someday Engineering disciplines will take attribution far more seriously than it currently does.