How PCB Libraries and Data Management Help Prevent Intellectual Property Theft

Zachariah Peterson
|  Created: March 19, 2021

Anytime you send your finished design data out for production at an overseas factory, you place yourself at risk of intellectual property theft. Unscrupulous workers can pilfer design data and sell it to a competitor. They can also pilfer finished boards and reverse engineer them. This theft of intellectual property undermines competitiveness and ultimately places a company’s survival in jeopardy.

In addition to the problems surrounding third-party access to important design data, intellectual property theft can also occur from within. Designers with access to trade secrets can inadvertently leak important intellectual property when access control is not defined or enforced. These problems around intellectual property protection are pervasive, and access control features in data management platforms are regarded as among the best solutions to protect and manage intellectual property.


A unified data management and intellectual property management platform that integrates with Altium Designer® and other mechanical design tools.

With expanded design teams comes pains around access control, intellectual property, and design data management. Although design teams need access to the data they need to upgrade old designs and create new designs, sensitive design information on printed circuit boards needs to be kept private. This prevents inadvertent exposure of sensitive information to unauthorized parties and even outright theft from employees. Project managers on PCB layout and production projects need efficient ways to protect and manage PCB libraries and intellectual property without exposing sensitive information.

With the right access management control solution, project managers and IT administrators can control access to sensitive data and ensure data security. Creating strong PCB libraries is one way to compile important data into one location, but simply creating a library file does nothing to provide security without implementing further access measures on your network.

Intellectual Property Concerns with PCB Design

Individual circuits in a layout and schematic can certainly be reversed engineered from a manufactured board, and there are certain board-level security measures that can be taken to obfuscate functionality and construction. Part numbers can be scrubbed and removed from integrated circuits, passives can be installed to hide sizes, physical layer security can be implemented on board packaging, and other methods can be used to obscure intellectual property.

Once a board is produced, anyone can take steps to reverse engineer the board and understand the overall functionality. The real danger in leaking of intellectual property arises during the design phase. Distributed teams that collaborate on designs need access to the same set of data in order to create new products. All this needs to happen in such a way that data is not inadvertently leaked to an unauthorized user. Version controls and access controls should also be implemented in order to trace changes to individual users and control who makes changes to new designs.

Keeping Your PCB Libraries Secure

Intellectual property can be found in your libraries in the form of electronics schematics, firmware, embedded software, components in a PCB layout, and even circuit board layer stacks for different applications. Your libraries can be kept secure with a managed data access and version control solution. This regulates access to specific data with design secrets that make your products unique and competitive.

By far, controlling access is the best solution to providing data security throughout any organization. This goes beyond preventing hacks or data breaches; this really requires control over internal and external access. While tools are available within your operating system to control access to individual library files and create backups as needed, you won’t have any version control capabilities, and you’ll have to implement an awkward workflow to import data into your design software.

Screenshot showing identification of obsolete components

Identifying obsolescence with Altium Concord Pro

Improving Security Without Losing Productivity

Maintaining data security might seem like a difficult task, especially when one considers that data breaches and hacks are a near daily occurrence. Implementing data security practices requires defining specific procedures and implementing systems that provide access and version control during the design process. Doing this the wrong way has the potential to hamper design workflow.

Thankfully, the right data management tools don’t have to impede design productivity. When data security features are integrated into your design software, you can quickly find and import the design data you need into your new products without compromising your productivity. In fact, a great data management solution in your PCB design platform will improve productivity by providing instant access to critical design data.

Protecting Intellectual Property with Data Management Solutions

A managed data access solution with access control is the best way to protect intellectual property, but these tools don’t have to impede productivity. A data management platform that integrates into your PCB design software allows designers to access supply chain information and revision history on important designs. This allows sensitive data for old and new designs to be quickly accessed and updated as needed while maintaining data security.

If you have tools that integrate data security features into your PCB library management platform, you won’t have to work with third-party tools or adapt your OS security features into your PCB design workflow. You can directly control access to sensitive data within your PCB design software and import this data directly into designs as needed. This provides your teams with the component information and design data you need while limiting access to the right team members.

ECAD/MCAD codesign

ECAD/MCAD co-design with Altium Designer and SolidWorks

The Best Software to Guard PCB Design Intellectual Property

Given the intellectual property concerns with PCB design, your design software needs to contain access control features to ensure your data remains secure. Your internal design teams also need access to the best design tools so that they can work with authorized data and create new products.

Old designs also need to be periodically updated and modernized as new versions. Working with a managed data security platform that has access control features also allows designers to create updated embedded designs, printed circuit board layouts, and firmware while providing data security and access control. With Altium Concord Pro, you can work with new or old designs using a managed solution for access control and data security.

Protecting IP when You Switch to Altium Designer and Altium Concord Pro

When you switch to a new design program, you’ll most likely want to continue using your old designs in your new software. Your old circuit designs need to be imported into your new design software so that you can modify them for new and improved applications. As you import your design into your new software, you should place your design data into a data management platform so that you can easily access your data and control access.

Altium Designer provides all the tools you need to import your design data from an outdated design platform and into the most modern PCB design solution. You can quickly create new designs from your old products and bring them into the modern age. When you complement Altium Designer with Altium Concord Pro, you can place your imported design data into your managed database solution.

The version control, data access, and live collaboration features provided by Altium Concord Pro allow you to manage data access and track updates throughout the design process. This provides that extra layer of IP security you need. With so many IP breaches occurring internally, controlling data access is a critical portion of securing your IP from theft and tracking thieves in the event of a breach.

Altium Designer has already set the standard for integrated design, and its capabilities can now be expanded even further when you add Altium Concord Pro. Project managers and PCB layout designers will still have access to the tools they need to design the latest technology. The data access control features help you secure your intellectual property data while still ensuring your new designs remain up-to-date with the newest model and footprint data.

When it comes time to source your components and plan for manufacturing, you can quickly release a new version of your board with updated component footprints, models, and even replacement components. This helps you remain competitive while still providing the products your customers demand. These features are accessible directly within Altium Designer right alongside your PCB design and production planning features.

Altium is fully invested in your success, and you’ll have access to the resources you need to be successful. You’ll have access to the AltiumLive forum, webinars, and podcasts with industry experts, an extensive knowledge base, and thorough design tutorials. With Altium Designer and Altium Concord Pro, you’ll have the tools you need to fully integrate your design and data security processes while protecting your intellectual property.

About Author

About Author

Zachariah Peterson has an extensive technical background in academia and industry. He currently provides research, design, and marketing services to companies in the electronics industry. Prior to working in the PCB industry, he taught at Portland State University and conducted research on random laser theory, materials, and stability. His background in scientific research spans topics in nanoparticle lasers, electronic and optoelectronic semiconductor devices, environmental sensors, and stochastics. His work has been published in over a dozen peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings, and he has written 1000+ technical blogs on PCB design for a number of companies. He is a member of IEEE Photonics Society, IEEE Electronics Packaging Society, and the American Physical Society, and he currently serves on the INCITS Quantum Computing Technical Advisory Committee.

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