Joseph Lampinen is director of the Americas Engineering product group of Kelly Services, In his current role, he is responsible for the strategic development and growth of engineering staffing, search and project services in the Midwest and Canada, with special interest in manufacturing, engineering, plant/facilities engineering, sustainability and Lean Six Sigma.
Mr. Lampinen joined Kelly Services® in 1998 as a technical branch manager in the Chicago Market and subsequently served as Midwest regional engineering manager. Prior to joining Kelly, he was an operations director with Laidlaw Corporation in the Midwest.
He holds an interdisciplinary bachelor of arts degree from Western Illinois University, a graduate certificate in engineering law and management from the University of Illinois at Chicago and is currently a graduate student in technology at Purdue University. Mr. Lampinen is a certified manufacturing engineer, project management professional (PMP®) and LEED® AP. In addition, he is an active member of several engineering and professional organizations, including the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, Project Management Institute, Association for Facilities Engineering and American Society for Quality.
Engineering managers are sometimes reluctant to bring in contingent engineers or contractors because of intellectual property or confidentiality concerns about sensitive proprietary information. However, if a project or program requires supplementing your full-time engineering staff with contractors due to workload, scheduling or other factors, what can be done?
Of course, intellectual property considerations are really a two-way street. On the one hand, as an engineering manager, you have a fiduciary responsibility to protect confidential product and process information that you do not want walking out the door with the contractor (or, for that matter, any employee who leaves). On the other hand, bringing in engineering contractors with the right kind of skill and experience can contribute to the intellectual property of your company.
A few months ago, I spoke with an engineering manager at an industrial bakery that produces a variety of breads, rolls and other baked goods on a massive scale. They were in the process of adding a new line and were working on a project to revise the layout of their existing processing equipment to accommodate the installation of the new machinery. To assist in the project, they had augmented their staff with a manufacturing engineer contractor. This manufacturing engineer applied a process design concept to speed the cooling of the baked products that he had first used in a composite lamination curing process in an unrelated industry. The result was an innovation in the bakery that had the potential to dramatically improve the productivity of the line while improving space utilization within the plant.
It is not uncommon for contingent engineers and contractors to play key roles in the invention and development of new products or processes. In fact, one of the benefits of using a contract engineer is that he or she can provide a fresh look from the outside at a problem. Just remember that, if patent protection might be sought, the actual inventors must be named on the US patent application for a patent to be legally valid. If a contract engineer plays a significant or principal role in the invention of a patented product or technology, the patent may be voided if his or her name is not among those listed on the application.
In order to protect a trade secret and have it considered by the courts to be a trade secret, companies need to (1) identify trade secrets as such and let workers (employees as well as contingent workers alike) know what information is to be kept confidential and (2) take measures to protect the confidentiality of the trade secret.
Information compartmentalization is often used to protect trade secrets. For example, The Coca-Cola Company and Kentucky Fried Chicken are two famous examples of companies that keep their recipes and formulas compartmentalized. Purportedly, there are only a few senior managers at each company who know the entire formula for Coca-Cola or the entire “11 herbs and spices” recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken. This compartmentalization applies to employees and contingent workers alike.
Confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements are typically used by companies when assigning staff employees to research and development and process engineering work involving trade secret information. These agreements can be signed with contingent workers, as well, of course. They are just as valid and enforceable with contractors as they are with staff employees. When the contractor is supplied by an agency or outside company, as the employer of record, they may need to be added as third parties to these agreements.
Engineering managers are right to be mindful of intellectual property and trade secrets when utilizing supplemental engineering workers. However, these concerns are manageable and can yield highly successful and protected technical work for companies. Many of the largest and most famous manufacturers in the world use contingent engineers in a variety of roles, including many that involve the engineers in highly sensitive and confidential research and development work. The experience of these companies has shown that concerns can be effectively managed so that intellectual property is protected.
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