Intellectual property can be among the most valuable assets a business owns. In many cases, the success of a company depends in large part on effectively protecting that IP. Most people are familiar with the common tools: patents, trademarks and copyrights.
Here are three additional strategies you can consider to help protect intellectual property.
If it is a secret, treat it as such
Because securing a patent requires the disclosure of key information, many people lean on trade secret protections to safeguard their IP. Not any old piece of important information is a trade secret, however.
In order to benefit from trade secret laws, the IP must derive independent economic value, and, crucially, its owner must take reasonable steps to ensure it remains secret. It is the latter point people often overlook. If a business is careless with an alleged trade secret – such as leaving a relevant document in plain view on a desk or storing information on an unsecured network – that behavior can thwart attempts to pursue necessary legal action.
Write airtight contracts
No business operates in a vacuum. It requires working and interacting with different parties, such as employees, contractors or vendors. These parties may come into contact with intellectual property. It is important, then, to have rock-solid contract language that protects you and the business. This can be applied to:
- Confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements
- Licensing contracts
- Vendor agreements
- Non-compete clauses
- Employment agreements
- Sales contracts
Be wary of joint ownership arrangements
Who owns the IP? The answer to this vital question may come with potentially serious legal repercussions. It can be tempting for business leaders, particularly those in smaller start-ups, to have a joint ownership arrangement with their colleagues.
While this may seem fair, it can come with consequences. Questions about the IP’s use could bubble up, and should there be subsequent legal action, working to protect this property can become much more complex.
The value of IP
There are many ways to protect intellectual property. Doing so effectively is as much art as it is science, requiring both in-depth knowledge of the law as well as creative thinking. The above options offer a brief overview of a few possible tools at your disposal.
Only once it is properly protected can owners feel confident in the subsequent operation, monetization and – if necessary – enforcement of prized intellectual property.