IP (Intellectual Property) protection is essential for your business. Whether you are running a small startup or large corporation, IP laws exist to protect your ideas and the value they create for your company.
You can take the first step to IP protection by consulting with an intellectual property lawyer, but true protection needs to be woven into your business strategy. Regardless of your company’s size, if you’ve created something from an idea, it’s your responsibility to ensure that it stays protected in the ever-changing landscape of your business.
We’ve spoken before about how IP protection adds value to your business. Not only does it prevent competitors from copying your ideas, it protects the value of what you create. Whether it’s a product, blog or logo, IP rights apply to everything that your business produces. But how can you tell if you’re maximizing your IP protection? Here are some steps you can take to ensure that you are:
Many companies make the mistake of applying for IP protection one time, then letting it sit indefinitely. They think that IP protection is a one-and-done deal, but that is not the case. IP protection is like a garden that needs to be tended to frequently. The more your plants grow, the more attention they need. It’s the same with an idea or product under IP protection.
As your business increases, the specific needs of your IP protection grow, too. Perhaps you’ve included more employees and need to account for their IP rights. Or, say your idea has expanded and gained more value as a result. No matter the case, IP protection is something that needs to be routinely checked and applied, so be sure to include monthly or quarterly reviews regarding your IP rights.
This also means you should keep new intellectual property completely off limits from the public until all the necessary protection is in place. We know that sitting on exciting information can be difficult. But announcing the details of a new development or idea before your protection is fully in place can leave your company vulnerable to infringement. Trust us, the wait is worth it.
If you have more than one person under your company, chances are they are going to need proper education on the IP regulations for your business. The first step is to establish a standard code of conduct on how employees should treat confidential information, especially if they are involved with third party businesses. You should clearly state the confidentiality terms in your agreement (a clause which should be included in every employee contract, if you haven’t added it already) so that employees are aware that certain information cannot be disclosed outside your business.
Be sure that employees are clear on their individual IP rights within the company. They should know to submit any intellectual property they create and that their IP rights belong to your business. This should be stated clearly and frequently, to eliminate confusion and discourage employees from running off to competitors with their best ideas.
Another effective tactic to protecting your company’s IP rights is limiting access to sensitive information. Most start ups establish an environment where team members rotate from project to project with no confidentiality terms in place. If this sounds like your office, then you may want to consider keeping employees on a “need to know” basis when it comes to project details and information. Leave the confidential details to select senior management and let them know to only disclose project information that is absolutely necessary to the rest of your team.
Regular audits allow you to take stock of current IP protections and adjust the terms if necessary. As you review each IP, you can assess which updates are needed and act accordingly. You can also use your audits as an opportunity to establish a set procedure for future IP protection evaluation, to ease the process with each audit.
Audits also allow you time to monitor the market and identify any infringement at the hands of a third party. The purpose of IP rights is to protect yourself from other companies that may be trying to cash in on your ideas. If you diligently assess your IP status, you have a higher chance of catching infringement early on.
At the same time, you can compare your IP portfolio against competitors to ensure you are not infringing on another company’s IP rights. Not that you would ever purposefully take another person’s intellectual property, but not fully understanding IP rights could lead to infringement that you may not even be aware of. No matter the situation, your company would be held to the same consequences of IP theft. Regular audits are an opportunity to review IP rights and ensure your company is protected on both sides of the spectrum.
Once you have IP protection in place, you need to know what to do if infringement occurs. Having a plan will allow you to act swiftly if infringement is detected and your company needs to take action. You may already have a system in place for employees who breach the confidentiality terms of their agreement, but third parties could be trickier.
That’s why it is necessary to make sure you are aware of the IP laws and your rights. It’s not an easy business, so you may want to work with an experienced IP counsel to understand your rights. If enforcement is necessary, we will able to advise you on the best course of action to protect your business.
If you are interested in learning about how we can assist with your IP needs, contact us today for a free consultation!