Intellectual property protection: The basics

Your company's intellectual property, whether that's patents, trade secrets or just employee know-how, may be more valuable than its physical assets. This primer covers everything from establishing basic policies and procedures for intellectual property protection.

By Alyson Behr, Derek Slater
Sept. 7, 2017


Stealing I.P.
Credit: Thinkstock 

Intellectual property (IP) is the lifeblood of every organization. It didn’t used to be. As a result, now more than ever, it’s a target, placed squarely in the cross-hairs by various forms of cyber attack. Witness the long list of hacks on Hollywood and the entertainment industry’s IP including “Pirates of the Caribbean” and more recently HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” 

Your company's IP, whether that's patents, trade secrets or just employee know-how, may be more valuable than its physical assets. Security pros must understand the dark forces that are trying to get this information from your company and piece it together in a useful way. Some of these forces come in the guise of "competitive intelligence" researchers who, in theory, are governed by a set of legal and ethical guidelines carefully wrought by the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP). Others are outright spies hired by competitors, or even foreign governments, who'll stop at nothing, including bribes, thievery, or even a pressure-activated tape recorder hidden in your CEO's chair.

IP protection is a complex duty with aspects that fall under the purview of legal, IT, human resources and other departments. Ultimately a chief security officer (CSO) or risk committee often serves to unify intellectual property protection efforts. With protection from cyber attack now critical, the chief information security officer (CISO) now plays a major role.

This primer covers everything from establishing basic policies to procedures for IP protection.

 

What is intellectual property?

IP can be anything from a particular manufacturing process to plans for a product launch, a trade secret like a chemical formula, or a list of the countries in which your patents are registered. It may help to think of it as intangible proprietary information. The World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO’s) formal definition of IP is creations of the mind — inventions, literary and artistic works, symbols, names, images and designs used in commerce. 

IP is divided into two categories: Industrial property includes but is not limited to patents for inventions, trademarks, industrial designs and geographical indications. Copyright covers literary works like novels, poems and plays, films, music and artistic works, for example drawings, paintings, photographs, sculptures, web site pages and architectural design. Rights related to copyright include those of performing artists in their performances, producers of phonograms in their recordings, and broadcasters in their radio and television programs. 

For many companies, such as those in the pharmaceutical business, IP is much more valuable than any physical asset. IP theft costs U.S. companies as much as $600 billion a year according to the Theft of Intellectual Property Commission. 

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