How safe is your intellectual property from theft?

In a recently published article, the Economist has stated that many businesses actually prefer to not register a patent or copyright because in this case, the invention’s core clue would need to be published. This opens up a delicate discussion – when to patent a product, and when better throw a veil of secrecy over it? And can we definitely be sure that it is actually kept a secret?

Companies such as Google are investing enormous resources to protect their patented search algorithm, hire intellectual property lawyers and only allow access to confidential documents to a restricted number of trustworthy employees that need to contribute to future developments. With this sensitive information being at the heart of many companies’ success, also large and famous corporations are continuously facing head-spinning fines when infringing copyright law.

Just to name the 450.5 million dollar fine Samsung faced for “slavishly copying” Apple’s devices or today’s announced verdict in the Cisco case where the producer of networking equipment has been fined to $70 million, partly for having infringed two patents of XpertUniverse Inc.

But what can small and medium sized enterprises do to protect their core business? Investigators on intellectual property fraud, such as Conflict International, suggest the key elements to keep confidential documents safe are to restrict them from being emailed or printed in the first place; security software systems can also prevent screenshots from being taken, email tracking is crucial, desktop sharing should be restricted.

In any case, non-disclosure agreements should always be signed with employees, client lists, contacts, quotes, contracts and any sensitive information related to R&D should be stored locally, if possible not even on the company network. Many businesses today already prefer working on confidential documents only from stand-alone computers with strictly no internet access.

Given the rising cyber-thefts in the last few years with hackers carrying out extremely targeted and sophisticated attacks to steal business sensitive information, these concerns are not unjustified: just recently, the US government has demanded China to block the widespread cyberattacks and agree to “acceptable norms of behaviour in cyberspace.”