Traditional methods of IP protection aren’t going to cut it these days. Sophisticated hackers, weakening IP laws, and cutthroat competition all pose significant threats to a company’s IP. This is especially true for tech companies and startups that have the cash and desire to innovate. Here are the three biggest challenges to keeping IP safe and some things to consider to reduce the risk:
Trade Secret Divulgence
For decades, companies took comfort in keeping trade secrets a secret by limiting the number of people who had access to the information and assuming that they could trust people to keep quiet. Unfortunately, employees aren’t quite as loyal to their employers as they used to be. Gone are the days of the devoted worker who would spend thirty plus years of his or her working years at one company. Now, people jump from company to company constantly hoping to develop new skills and work their way up the socioeconomic ladder. And, with all of this company hopping, important information goes right along with that employee and very well may end up in a competitor's hands.
For this reason, it is wise to restrict information to the leadership team as much as possible. Confidential documents must be safely stored in a highly secure online repository that provides detailed tracking of the site’s access and use. Even if an employee needs to know certain items in order to do his/her job, the information should be limited, which can be accomplished by assigning permissions-based roles for data access. More importantly, companies must require extremely rigorous non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements to deter employees from divulging sensitive data.
Free Rider Problems
In addition to the possibility of employees leaking important information, there is always the potential for hackers to obtain data or for a company’s own lackadaisical approach to protecting its IP to allow information to seep out. Whether information is obtained illicitly or by accident, any ambitious free riders can exploit it for their own gain.
This is yet another reason that companies must take the time to really consider which pieces of information are crucial to their survival and assess whether they are doing everything they can to safeguard it. An IP protection plan should be an integral facet to a company’s strategic plan and resources must be invested into services that offer maximum protection.
A depressing number of patents end up being invalidated (most figures estimate that well over half of them are struck down), so this isn’t exactly the strongest source of protection. This doesn’t mean that companies shouldn’t take the time to file for protection. It just means that it cannot be the sole protective method employed. We cannot emphasize enough how important it is for companies to take a multi-faceted approach to protecting IP. It is key for this to be done as early as possible and requires periodic assessment to ensure the most up to date measures are in place. It would be most unfortunate for a company to crumble due to pilfered IP all because it used outdated technology or waited to act subsequent to the breach.