Protect Your Intellectual Property from Theft

Economic espionage has captured the attention of the United States government as a potential threat to the countries prosperity and national security. One court case involving an engineer stealing trade secrets from his employer’s system and sharing them with a competitor after leaving the company underlines the importance of protecting intellectual property.

Although companies take steps to protect their trade secrets and intellectual property, it is often not enough to prevent critical information from being stolen.

Trade secrets must be protected. If a company fails to limit trade secret access to only those with a “need to know,” a defense attorney can attempt to place doubt in the minds of a jury regarding the defendant’s guilt. In other words, if you don’t take steps to keep a trade secret a secret, you may lose the rights to it.

Make sure you have strongly worded non-disclosure agreements, as well as other policies and procedures concerning your ownership of trade secrets and proprietary company information. These agreements should be signed by employees indicating that they read and understand them. Outside contractors that need access to sensitive business operations should also sign confidentiality agreements.

Here are some other best practices that can also help prevent intellectual property theft:

  • Monitor employees’ e-mail as well as the frequency and amount of data that they access on company’s servers.
  • Appropriately identify your company’s intellectual property. This may be harder than it sounds since your assets may not be clearly defined. Patented technology is obviously a form of intellectual property. However, what constitutes a trade secret is less clear. Contact your attorney for answers as well as steps your company needs to take to stake claim to a trade secret in a court of law.
  • Determine how effectively your company is in protecting its intellectual property. Before changes can be made to the way your company guards its intellectual assets, you must first determine what measures currently exist. Protecting intellectual property requires aligning people, processes, and technology in an effective, fully integrated anti-theft program. Assess your current program, and then develop a list of improvements to be prioritized and implemented.
  • Make sure you’re ready to respond. In the event that intellectual property is stolen, who within the organization will coordinate the company’s resource? When will the board be notified? How will you avoid alarming employees? These are all important questions to answer before a potential theft takes place.
  • Are your people aware of potential threats? In most cases when intellectual property is stolen, an employee is involved in the process. To help combat theft, make sure executives, senior management and frontline employees are fully aware of what constitutes the company’s intellectual property as well as what they are expected to do to ensure its protection.

Communication with your staff some of the steps your organization is taking to prevent, detect, and investigate intellectual property theft. Doing so heightens the perception by employees that if they attempt to steal intellectual property, they will quickly be discovered.

Are you sharing too much information with third parties? Companies inadvertently share elements of their intellectual property with potential employees, customers, and even the media. Prepare an inventory of the touch points that the company has with third parties and determine what, if any, details about your intellectual property might be unintentionally making their way into the public domain.

Watch what employees disclose at industry trade shows. Review technical literature, service manuals, press releases, and other material distributed outside the company. Similar reviews should be made of filings with the SEC or patent applications.

These are only some of the steps you can take to secure your company’s intellectual property portfolio. Protection can only be accomplished if your company invests the time and effort to implement a fully integrated program.