How Do My Employees Affect My Intellectual Property Risk?

intellectual-property-stampIn today’s world, protecting yourself, your company and your brand from the risk of intellectual property theft can seem next to impossible. While you may think of intellectual property risk as being confined to stolen secrets, recipes, plans or formulas, it goes much farther than that, especially in a culture so engrossed in various aspects of social media fostered by platforms like Facebook and Twitter. A seemingly insignificant sentence tweeted or shared online can have potentially devastating consequences to an enterprise even when made unintentionally.

Intellectual property risk extends across the full spectrum of communication methods, from ear-spoken whisperings or shared texts to all out computer hacking or software piracy. When someone takes something that doesn’t belong to him or her, whether in words, pictures or even unwritten plans, it is outright theft.

Your Business May Be at Risk

If you’ve read the book or seen the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you’ll remember that it was the revealing of the company’s secret candy formulas that made Willy Wonka decide to close down his factory operations and terminate all of his workers. He knew it was the actions of a few disloyal employees that were responsible for giving unfair advantage to the competition by way of insider information. The fact is, intellectual property risk can have a potentially adverse effect on just about any business and the first line of defense is having a cadre of loyal employees who understand that the success of your business is intimately connected to their own levels of success.

Anti-Intellectual Property Risk Strategies

While copyrights, trademarks, confidentiality agreements and the limiting of sensitive information to a strictly need-to-know basis are all viable strategies against intellectual property infringement, having a happy, satisfied and loyal workforce is also a critical factor in ensuring workplace sabotage doesn’t occur in the form of information leaks. When workers feel they’re valued, respected and have an integral part in the company reaching desired goals, they’re much more likely to be part of creating a happy, enjoyable work environment and remain loyal to the organization.

There are a variety of ways these conditions can be fostered. They include:

  • Increased financial and advancement opportunities
  • Recognition
  • Praise for a job well done
  • Contests, special celebrations, group outings or just having lunch with the boss

It’s important for someone in a leadership role to understand that loyalty to the company cannot be demanded or mandated but it can certainly be earned. When employees are made to feel an important part of your organization, having ideas, opinions and feedback that are deemed valuable to management, they’re much more likely to feel they have a stake in the ongoing success of the organization. This will make it less likely that a competitor will be able to entice them to cross over to the other side by divulging confidential information.

Contractual Clauses to Promote Confidentiality

While not infallible, certain employment agreement contract clauses can be implemented to promote trade secret confidentiality. These include non-disclosure agreements wherein signing parties agree not to disclose any confidential information to any third party. They also include non-compete clauses that legally prevent employees from going to work for a competitor or from starting their own business in the same industry for a specified period of time.

While these non-compete and non-disclosure agreements may prove valuable, the fact remains that many times when intellectual property is put at risk, it is due to current employees. They may be the biggest threat and represent the greatest challenge to guarding against intellectual property risk. Promoting unwavering employee loyalty is the best line of defense.

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