In the fierce world of business, every company is for themselves. It is getting increasingly harder to stay afloatin today’s oversaturated market, meaning that companies need to come up with unique, innovative ideas that will set them apart from their competition. Creating a one-of-a-kind product that only your company offers is a sure way to success, which is exactly why we are discussing the present topic today. It is common sense to implement security measures in order to protect your valuables – you surely have alarm systems and security cameras in place at your premises. However, one must not forget about properly protecting intellectual property (IP) either – especially if you’re a small business with a big idea.
What is IP?
According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, “Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.”
This means that practically everything of this sort that was created within your company should rightfully belong to you. However, it oftentimes happens that, inadequate protection (or the complete lack thereof) leads to IP theft problems, and not only from the outside, but possibly even from within.
A threat from within
You would probably never expect your employees to betray you. Well, think again. There is no guarantee that your current employees will stay with your company forever. And whenever a work relationship ends, you’re in danger of the employee taking your IP with them out the door. According to studies, a staggering 59 percent of employees who are leaving their workplace take sensitive, confidential data with them for various reasons – including theft. We all know that once that happens, regardless of the legal steps you take, some of the damage can never be recovered. Thus prevention is key. Here are several strategies that will help you stop your employees from stealing your IP.
How to protect yourself
Do a background check
First and foremost, before you employ anyone, you must do a thorough background check. You should be extra careful when investigating the reasons why and how the person left their previous workplace. Contacting some of the candidate’s previous employers is a great idea too. If there have been any issues of this kind with your potential employee, it’s best to avoid employing them in the first place.
Limit access to certain files
Not all of your employees need access to all of your data. Limiting access for the lower-level employees can protect some of your IP, even if not everything. It’s an important step to take, but obviously, it’s not enough in itself.
Educate them on the issue
Your employees might not be aware of the actual seriousness of this offense, and that they might even end up in court should they steal your IP. That’s why it’s important to educate them. Being aware that IP theft is a serious crime will probably deter most of them from this behavior. Also, make them realize that they will very likely be caught if they commit this crime, which will further discourage them. It’s also better for you if you can avoid legal procedures altogether, thus, taking this step is beneficial from multiple aspects. However, similarly to limiting access, it’s merely a step in protecting your IP and should be combined with other approaches.
Keep an eye out
Another way you can catch IP theft before the real problem even occurs is by properly logging everything. By keeping an eye on the logs, you can notice suspicious activities and prevent damage, or alternatively, if theft has already occurred, well-kept logs will serve as reliable evidence. Thus, make sure you check your logging systems and update them if you find that they are not adequate for spotting such activities. What you want to keep an eye out for is, for example, an employee accessing client and marketing lists frequently, sending suspicious emails to non-company addresses, accessing cloud-based storage solutions or inserting USB drives.
Employ IP protection methods
There are several legal ways in which you can protect your IP, from confidentiality agreements to copyright, trademarks and patents.
Confidentiality agreements are contracts that make sure that the other party can’t talk about your idea with people from the outside. When it comes to protecting your IP from your employees, non-compete clauses particularly will come in handy. They prohibit your employees from creating a similar business and becoming your competition after they leave your employment.
Copyright itself does not protect an idea or a concept, but rather the author’s original expression of it, and it only extends to literary, dramatic, artistic and musical creations. To get informed about which of your assets copyright applies to and what steps you should take in case a dispute arises, consult experts specializing in copyright protection.
To protect your name, logos and slogans, you can trademark them. As opposed to copyright, it does not apply automatically but you have to go through a process if you want to trademark your brand. If you manage to go through with it, you can use the ® symbol to signify that you have the exclusive rights to the said items. Needless to say, this makes it impossible for your employees to steal them and claim them as their own.
Finally, a patent applies to inventions (products or processes). It is a sure way of protecting your assets, and even though it is the most expensive method, once you apply for it and acquire it by disclosing all the information about your invention, you’ll gain exclusive rights to it. Besides protecting you from IP theft, it is also a great way of increasing the value of your business and attracting more investors.
As you can see, there are numerous methods you can use to stop your employees from stealing your IP. It all begins with prevention, so don’t slack in this department. If any kind of issue should arise, you will have something to fall back on if you’ve imposed the appropriate IP protection measures. And if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation where one of your employees stole your IP, don’t refrain from contacting your lawyer and taking legal steps.
Bio: David Koller is a passionate blogger and copywriter for Media Gurus, mainly interested in Business and Digital Marketing.