Intellectual property (IP) is an important aspect of any business. If you have developed IP as part of your business, you have the right to have it protected. Here are some key ways to make sure your IP stays with you and your business.
1. IP Assignment and Nondisclosure Agreements
The first step you can (and should) take to protect your IP is to require everyone who is associated with it to enter into IP assignment and nondisclosure agreements. Most of the time, these agreements are short, to the point and contain standard terms. Even better, most people understand these agreements and are willing to sign them without any coaxing. It is easy to overlook these agreements, but if you do, it can be quite costly to your company. Plus, it can also mean the loss of ownership of any or all of your IP. So, err on the side of caution, and be insistent and vigilant about obtaining signed agreements.
2. IP Prosecution and Registration
Every company that has IP needs a plan for managing it. The ideal time to form a plan for dealing with IP is at the company’s inception. But, if you are past that point, it does not mean that you are too late to put a plan together. Your plan should include details such as when and how to submit applications for patents, copyrights and trademarks. You also want to make sure to register your IP federally as well as with any foreign equivalents. The application and registration process can be time-consuming and expensive. So, be sure to plan accordingly. Once the process is complete, it will be easy for your company to manage its IP portfolio and remain aware of any and all application deadlines, as well as other important IP-related information.
3. IT Systems Security
Not only do you need to secure the ownership of your IP through registration, but you should also make sure it cannot be accessed by breaching your IT systems security. To do so, you need to:
- Use secure and encrypted cloud storage, email and file storage applications
- Require everyone to use strong passwords on their computers and mobile devices
- Encrypt portable media such as flash drives
- Create and enact a policy for document retention and destruction.
4. Employee Retention and Post-Termination Obligations
One of the best ways to protect your company’s IP is to retain the people who work for the company. But, it is impossible to keep all of your employees forever. To ensure your IP remains protected, you should obtain non-competition, non-solicitation and non-disparagement agreements that extend for a significant length of time. Do not reserve these agreements for soon-to-be former employees who leave on negative terms. Even your most faithful employees need to sign them, too.