Machine Design

Are you an authorized viewer? Documents can now tell.

The theft of intellectual property has been a hot topic among global manufacturers.

A document originator and owner would grant users in the supply chain permission to change, copy, print, or work offline with this document.

An aircraft supplier has received a model of a nose cone and landing gear. Only the landing gear is detailed while the nose cone provides supporting information. Adobe's Policy Server lets the document's sender limit what suppliers can copy. Should the supplier try to copy the nose-cone model along with the landing gear, the software first removes the nose cone. The feature lets users limit what might be printed or copied.

It would be a great advantage if documents, such as CAD drawings, could keep an eye on themselves when sent to foreign manufacturers. That's now possible, say software engineers at Adobe Systems Inc., San Jose (, and is just one of several security features built into software and services they call Policy Server 7.2.

"The key to making Policy Server work is a small authorization program that users must first download and install on their computers," says Adobe's Group Product Manager Grant Willard. "A valid user name and password confirms the user is indeed who they say they are before decrypting the document." The authorization program also carries orders and permission from the document originator.

For instance, Server functions give users certain permissions such as to change, copy, or print the document, or even work with it offline. Or it denies all of these. What's more, the authorization program sends brief reports to the originator on who is doing what to it. This generates an audit trail. Another feature: The originator can limit the document's life so it's deleted after a certain period.

Until recently, large companies used PLM systems to grant permissions and then tracked who checked-out what drawings and models, and when they did so. But when documents leave the PLM system, there is no way to track them. "One of the few widely reported alleged thefts dealt with a U.S. based automaker losing a design to an automobile company in Asia," says Willard. "Cars from the two companies look almost identical and the U.S. company is charging the other with theft of intellectual property."

Willard says the Policy Server can add security features to file formats in Word, Excel, Catia V5R16, and, of course, PDF. Adobe also offers a software-developer's kit so independent software vendors can add such features to their documents. However, notes Willard, PDF has translators for most engineering software such as CAD systems and mathematics programs. Smaller companies can lease the Server services by month. It's initially offered on hosted servers and runs in Unix and Windows.

Adobe Inc.

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