Inventor's Corner: Lockbox secures software dongles

May 10, 2012
The DongleLockbox lets users secure a software dongle — an electronic device that protects software from illegal copying

The DongleLockbox lets users secure a software dongle — an electronic device that protects software from illegal copying — such that it cannot be lost, stolen, or damaged. Users can link software to a dongle so that each time they run a protected program, it checks for the dongle. The program only runs if it finds the correct dongle. Software that uses a dongle is typically expensive — many thousands of dollars.

According to DongleLockbox inventor Jerry Hiller, when a dongle is lost, almost all software companies require users to purchase a brand new software package at full price. The more-significant cost, however, is downtime while a production facility waits for a replacement key. With replacement keys taking two to five working days to deliver, jobs can be delayed and accounts can be lost. Because the DongleLockbox protects a dongle against theft, loss, or damage, it potentially saves customers thousands of dollars.

The product is made up of a hard plastic housing connected to a combination lock that secures the contents inside. The lock’s metal cable can fasten to an anchor such as a hook, loop, or grommet attached to the desktop or a wall. Inside the housing is the female end of a USB 2.0 cable (which attaches to the dongle) that extends 5 ft outside the housing to a male end (which attaches to the computer).

It takes a few simple steps to use a DongleLockbox. Opening the combination lock gives access to the housing. Connect the dongle to the female end of the USB cable, and plug the male end of the USB cable into the computer that runs the software.

As a frequent exhibitor at trade shows demonstrating engineering software that used a software dongle, Hiller got the idea after worrying about someone stealing or damaging the dongle. He wanted a device he could attach to the leg of an exhibit table that would secure a dongle and keep it out of view.

He developed the DongleLockbox on his own time off the job using a number of off-the-shelf parts and a few special-order items. He assembled the prototype using a drill, soldering iron, and a handful of other tools. The DongleLockbox is currently beyond the prototype stage and just going into production.

Hiller says that prior to his invention, the only way he knew of to protect a software dongle was to purchase a custom computer with an internal USB port, or to modify an existing computer to have an internal USB port. Hiller can be reached at [email protected].

Are you (or do you know) an engineer who has come up with a sophisticated invention in your spare time? Want to get your idea showcased in MACHINE DESIGN magazine? Contact [email protected] or (216) 931-9242.

Edited by Leslie Gordon
[email protected]
, Twitter @LeslieGordon

© 2012 Penton Media, Inc.

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