Protecting your intellectual property is a vexing subject for all business, big and small. A company employs people to contribute new ideas, to input sensitive data and to learn the fundamentals of that business. Some employees have access to information that may prove to be highly desirable to your competitors, making for a huge dilemma if they were to leave.
One of the most recent cases where intellectual property became a concern was with the case of the McLaren and Ferrari Formula 1 racing teams. An engineer left his employment with the Ferrari racing team and was then employed with McLaren, taking with him some sensitive information that he’d been subjected to viewing when with Ferrari. He didn’t take documentation or any other “hard” copies of information it was all in his head. It became a case fought out in the courts regarding intellectual property.
I was recently faced with a dilemma of intellectual property in my place of employment, not a large corporation but a medium sized transport business. Being an employee for nearly ten years, helping in the process of building dispatch systems, procedures and protocol, I found myself one of the only people able to perform certain functions. I had sensitive knowledge of the computer system, the phone system and invoicing and customer procedures.
I fell pregnant and found out pretty quickly that I knew too much. I knew so much that some procedures would not be able to be performed or if they could, not properly. The next few months I began writing a procedure book for the company that was soon transferred to an Intranet system, one where all employees can access it from the Internet. I did this myself, no encouragement from the Directors or owners at all, started and completed on my initiation.
Later I realized I was protecting the company’s intellectual property, but management failed to see the potential difficulties that could have arisen.
If I were a dishonest person and was to leave my employer for a competitor within the same industry, I could have given them much privileged information. The competitor would have exclusive information regarding prices and important clients. But I’m not dishonest.
How can an individual protect their intellectual property that they bring to a company? How does a company protect their intellectual property from falling into the wrong hands? There are many laws and cases that relate to intellectual property, are you aware of your rights and privileges?
Intellectual property laws are divided into different categories depending on their status; these are trade secrets, copyrights, patents, trademarks or industrial design rights. The fact of the matter is, any information created by an employee belongs wholly to the employer.
Here are a few ways in which an individual and a company can protect their intellectual property if and when they’re faced with this concern.
PROTECTION INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY AS A COMPANY
The first thing in any company can do is to have every employee sign a confidentiality agreement when they commence employment.
A confidentiality agreement protects sensitive information that a person may be exposed to while they’re in your employment.
As a company, you should have this agreement written by a professional, preferably the lawyer you use in your business. It should contain all relevant information, a place in which the employee signs and a member of management witnesses the signature and a date included.
~Employee Background Checks
You’d be surprised by the number of companies who do not do a background or reference check on the people in their employment. There may have been cases of fraud or theft of intellectual property in the past. Always check your employee’s references before or during their assessment period.
~Protect Sensitive Information
You should utilize computer security setting and protect sensitive information and documentation relating to your business. If an employee should not be privy to certain information, then block them from accessing it on your system.
Set up different levels of security pertaining to experience and individual job descriptions, so that only a select few can utilize sensitive information.
If you find there are leaks or important information is being filtered to your competitors, you can narrow down the source easier.
Try not to have any hard copies available to staff regarding pricing, customer lists or other pertinent information. If these do exist, ensure they cannot be copied and do not leave the workplace.
~Ensure more than One Person knows Information
Never have one employee being knowledgeable on processes and protocols within the company. Always have a procedure booklet or intranet in place so information is available to those who need to know it.
Having an individual know your business, understand certain processes or being privy to particular procedures, will put your business in a compromising situation.
PROTECTING INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY AS AN INDIVIDUAL
Protecting your individual intellectual property depends on what industry you work in. If you work in the art, music writing or literary works industry, you will have moral rights pertaining to your intellectual property. Moral rights allow the person who created the item to retain their identity as the creator or author, and may also mean changes cannot be made unless you authorize it.
~Ask for a Clause in Your Employment Contract
If you are involved in an industry where you are employed to invent, create or design certain sensitive items and information, ask your employer if your can receive recognition for its creation.
You may also be able to ask for a percentage of sale and royalties in regards to ongoing costs of your invention. Although you understand all copyright and patent will belong to the company, you would also like to be recognized for your effort and intellect.
This must be contained within your original employment contract, it must be in writing and signed by all people it effects.
~Understand Your Employee Contract before You Sign
Read and re-read your employment contract. If you need to, have a lawyer look over your rights and obligations in regards to your intellectual property rights.
Before you sign anything, make sure you and your employer both understand what is being asked of you, what rights you have and where there may be possible clauses within the contract.
~What is Your Knowledge and Intellect Worth?
Your worth will be determined on your expertise within your industry. If your job entails handling sensitive information, coming up with ideas and patents that are due to make your employers a lot of money, you’d want to be well paid for your time and effort.
If you were to sign all responsibility, name, title and recognition over for any particular information or design you discover, you’d want to be paid for it.
In reality, many people will sign over all intellectual property and moral rights if they are paid to do so. An employer should recognize those who make them bigger and the best in their fields, profit and residual income should be paid to acknowledge the effort. Those who find they are not being cared and not considered in the company’s success, are those who are likely to be dissatisfied.
I have changed jobs several times within the same industry. As an individual and using my moral integrity, I will not disclose sensitive information from employer to employer.
When I work with each company, I give them all my energy. I become engrossed in my work and become what many call a “company person.” I figure this is what I must do to ensure my future with those that are paying to feed my children and keep a roof over our heads. In doing so, I am known to be honest and someone who is trustworthy. I will not compromise my position, my previous position and people who showed me loyalty so another can gain an advantage over them.
In conclusion, intellectual property is all-relative as long as the employer and employee have a complete understanding of all obligations and responsibilities.
The company employs people to entrust them with the future of their business, and the employee relies on being acknowledged in pay or recognition for their efforts.
The company must protect their property by putting into place many procedures, written and legal to protect it. The employee must recognize what is being asked for them and respect whom they work for. An employee should be able to move from job to job, if the need arises for personal advancement or financial benefit without having to compromise sensitive intellectual property.
The company on the other hand, should already have systems in place to protect their intellectual property in case it’s used against them in the future.
As with the F1 Ferrari and McLaren Intellectual property case, this reasoning can get out of control. What an individual perceives, information they may memorize throughout their day and work lives, should not be used against them. How can you hinder someone’s personal advancement through information they may or may not remember from sight of sensitive documentation? This is where intellectual property can become a matter that can be taken out of context.