How to Protect Your Company’s Intellectual Property

If you have a successful business model, it is likely that your competitors would love to get a hand on your intellectual property (IP) so that they can replicate your success. Unfortunately, this is often all too easy for companies to do, as they may be able to poach one of your managers, or even bribe an employee to pass on company documentation. Fortunately, there are steps that you can take to protect your intellectual property and keep it safe from prying eyes. In particular, one of the best ways to protect your IP would be to improve your company’s cybersecurity to prevent a data breach. Taking the proper steps to ensure your company’s cybersecurity could then prove instrumental in keeping your trade secrets hidden. To help get you started, here is a look at a few cybersecurity tips to help protect your intellectual property. 

Know What Your IP Consists Of

Before we look at steps that you can take to prevent IP loss, it is important that you know what exactly you are protecting, as intellectual property can take a variety of forms in addition to those you may be familiar with, such as product designs or formulas. For instance, a variety of sensitive documentation such as test data, documented design challenges, and even spreadsheets can contain critical data that can alert competitors to your plans. Even employee training documents can be considered IP as they can give your competitors an insight into how your company functions. Another often overlooked IP is customer/client lists. However, customer lists are considered to be a trade secret, and therefore, IP, as a competitor gaining access to your customer list could potentially threaten your business. It is then critical that you keep your company’s physical and digital data secure, and that you properly dispose of old documents, in order to protect your IP, as a wide range of information could potentially give your competitors an edge. Fortunately, taking the following precautions can help keep your IP secure.     

Keep Teams Separate

An important step every company should take to reduce the risk of intellectual property loss is to keep teams separate. Make sure to have projects split across multiple teams, and do not allow employees to work with more than one team at a given time. This helps to protect your IP by ensuring that no single employee has access to an entire product. If each employee only has limited knowledge of a product, this reduces the risk of intellectual property loss, as multiple people across various teams would have to work together to steal an entire product. It can then also be helpful to limit interaction between teams to prevent this from happening. 

Limit Access     

Central to keeping IP secure is also limiting who has access to secure documents and other sensitive information. Users should only have access to the data that they need to complete their jobs. Just as it is important to keep teams physically separate, members of each team should also be limited in what documents they have access to. This not only helps to prevent intellectual property loss, but it is also a good cybersecurity practice in general, as most security breaches are the result of human error.

Limiting each employee’s access will then limit the effect a single employee’s actions will have should there be IP theft and/or a data breach. In order to ensure that employees cannot access data outside their scope of work, it is critical that you adopt a two-factor authentication login system if not a system that uses adaptive authentication. Considering most data breaches are the result of compromised credentials, passwords alone are not enough to keep your company’s IP secure.    

Properly Train Employees

As we previously mentioned, human error is one of the largest causes of data breaches. Unfortunately, the fact is that many data breaches resulting from human error are not intentional. However, if employees do not know the role they play in keeping your company’s data and IP secure, they may inadvertently make a costly mistake. This makes it imperative that you properly train your employees on cybersecurity best practices in order to prevent data breaches and potential IP property loss. 

While proper training is critical in preventing data breaches, you should go a step farther to protect your company’s IP by educating employees on what IP is and why it matters. Ensuring that your staff understands what intellectual property is, and the potential effect something as simple as sharing confidential company information outside of work could have on the company, could go a long way in reducing the threat of intellectual property loss.   

Have a Plan for Off-Boarding Your Employees

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for IP to be lost as a result of disgruntled former employees selling your company’s sensitive information to a competitor. It is then essential that you have a plan in place to safely off-board employees that will help minimize the risk of employees taking your intellectual property with them when they leave your company. These procedures should include removing confidential company information from employee devices when they leave the company. Additionally, you will want to ensure that former employees no longer have access to company servers. If an outgoing employee was a keyholder, you should also make sure to get the key back, or even change the locks, in order to ensure that they no longer have building access. If an employee worked remotely, make sure to collect any company devices they may have been using at home, and remember to have employees hand over any physical IP materials they may have. 

Have Your Employees Sign Non-Disclosure Agreements

Of course, if you are particularly concerned about protecting your company’s IP, you may want to consider having employees sign Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs). Getting help creating strong NDAs can help to protect your business and provide you with legal recourse if one of your employees shares your IP with a competitor. This is particularly important for higher-level employees who may have access to multiple project teams. Other documentation you may want to consider having your staff sign such as employment agreements and sales contracts can further protect your company from intellectual property loss. 

Taking steps to strengthen your company’s cybersecurity can go a long way in helping to protect your intellectual property. To ensure you are taking the right cybersecurity precautions, contact us to arrange a free cyber threat assessment today.