I have served as General Counsel to high tech companies for more than 20 years and assist clients in creating intellectual property protection strategies for their businesses.
Whether copyright, trademark, patent or trade secret, your intellectual property is one of your company’s most valuable assets and deserves protection. Here are 3 strategic things you can do to better protect your IP.
For starters, a business needs to know what its intellectual property it possesses. This may sound somewhat basic, but you would be surprised how many businesses do not know the value of their IP creations. Or, as I have witnessed first-hand, a company may have so much IP (i.e. semiconductor manufacturers) that it doesn’t know all of what it has, how to protect it and leverage it for profit. Determine what original works, designs, creations, and inventions you have that can be registered and protected by intellectual property law.
Educating employees on what IP your company has and how to manage it is also essential. You may require them to sign forms concerning their access and handling of IP, whether general nondisclosure agreements or IP specific agreement. Getting your employees into the process is all part of the protection model.
Ensure employees at all levels are treating your company’s IP with the same level of importance as they would financial and physical assets. It should not be handed over to anyone without prior authorization. If your company does not currently have a Proprietary Rights and Inventions Assignment Agreement with employees and consultants, you should speak with experienced legal counsel to draft one for your company’s specific needs.
Keep track of your company’s IP, which means knowing where all digital and physical copies are stored, who has access to them, and when they are gaining access.
Your company should be aware of where the risks lie when it comes to protecting your IP rights. There are not only opportunities for the theft of IP internally but international IP theft and espionage as well.
These are some of the basic precursors to protecting your company’s intellectual property, and some additional measures that can be taken (some perhaps less conventional) to help reduce the instance of IP theft or violation.
Protecting Your IP Rights
Quiet and Under Wraps
This concept may seem obvious, but it just doesn’t occur to many people that this may be an option. When companies create new and exciting IP, they often want to share it with everyone and shout it from the rooftops. This may not be the best idea.
If you can keep your IP low-key and out of the field of vision of those who may be inclined to violate your IP rights, it is much harder for them to access what they can’t see or don’t even know exists.
In some cases, this may mean you choose not to file a patent. That may feel counterintuitive, but it makes sense when you consider what a patent protects and what it does not. This is where trade secret laws can be used to provide” under wraps” protection. Most states have adopted a version of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act and, relatively recently, Congress passed a federal version of the act.
Trade secret statutes set out the kinds of procedures you need to apply in order to take advantage of the protection. Generally, it comes down to treating your IP like a secret. For example, keep your IP under lock and key (physically or digitally). Limit which employees may have access to the IP. If all employees have access to your IP, it’s not really a secret anymore. Experienced IP legal counsel can help you set up processes to give you the best chance of protecting your trade secrets.
Even then, trade secret protection requires regular and ongoing due diligence. Consider the case of what is, perhaps, the most famous trade secret, the recipe for Coca-Cola. Several years ago, when the company moved to a new location, it left behind the safe containing the recipe. Fortunately, the new tenant notified Coca-Cola of the “oversight” and returned the recipe to the company for safe keeping. One has to wonder if anyone made copies of the recipe.
Strive for Constant Evolution and Innovation
Especially when working with software development and within the tech sector in general, it is ideal to always work toward making innovations to your products. This is true for any IP you create. There will always be other developers or inventors trying to build on successful existing programming. “New and improved” is the name of the game, both for profitability and to stay ahead of infringers and counterfeiters
Of course, this type of strategy will require a more intensive workload. Always looking for new ways to improve your products is not easy work, but there are some ways this can be made more manageable.
As an effective IP strategy, consider applying layers of protection, whether formally by law or informally through internal procedures.
For example, consider the implementation of separate teams working on innovating specific segments of your IP. Also, reducing the number of people who have access to your R & D and/or to the finished product will greatly reduce the chances of infringement and unauthorized use.
Go Public With Your IP
Finally, in contrast to the first suggestion, you can also decide to publish your company’s intellectual property and ensure you are being credited for and associated with it.
If you have a longstanding, well-established online presence that clearly shows your connection to your company’s intellectual property, it will be much easier to rely on any registered copyrights, trademarks, patents, and trade secrets. The first step is training your employees and consultants on properly documenting and safeguarding their innovations. This will aid IP counsel in properly advising your company on how to best capitalize on them.
It is important to protect your intellectual property. It cannot be repeated too often. Your IP is equally as valuable as any financial or physical assets your company holds.
The strategies discussed above can be applied to protect your business. You can also take advantage of the services of a legal professional like me to guide you through the process of finding what best fits your company’s IP profile. Don’t hesitate to contact me to book a consultation!