Intellectual property (also known as IP) theft has sadly become quite common, particularly in other jurisdictions where the IP laws are completely different to what is seen in Australia. Initially, you may be really eager to spread the word about your brilliant idea or invention. However, without properly protecting your creation, there may be little recourse available if a company or your friend decides they also like the sound of your idea and invention, and knows that you haven’t done anything to protect it yet.
Here are eight tips from the Bolter team to help you keep your IP and rightful ideas ‘yours’:
- Create a business IP policy: Keep confidential business ideas secret and available only to trusted people who need the information to carry out their jobs. This policy should cover all forms of intellectual property including ideas, patents, design patents, trademarks and even potential domain names and form part of any employment contract.
- Document IP development: Keep detailed logs of the development of any IP (including template documents) for the business. It is a good idea to sign and date those documents or adopt and use a version control policy.
- Keep IP safe through contracts: Ensure that all workers – both employees and contractors – sign an agreement which explicitly lists you as the owner of any intellectual property developed or which is existing and enhanced during the in the course of their work. Also, ensure that you discuss IP with employees, so they are aware of their obligations and rights. If they own existing IP rights which they bring into the business, ensure that this is clear and in writing and that both parties agree about this before commencing employment.
- Review computer safety: Review where you store your intellectual property. Is it stored on a secure server or database? Should you take extra steps to protect them (such as securely password-protect documents)? Ask yourself who has access to these locations?
- Restrict access to business areas: Ensure that important areas of your business are restricted. Review who has access to these areas. Do you have a visitor policy?
- Create an employee leaving protocol: In the same way that a business should protect IP through discussions and employment contracts, ensure that when an employee is exiting the business they are aware of their responsibilities about ownership. This includes returning files (including electronic records), wiping hard drives and may include future obligations under their employment contract as to non-disclosure of ideas or confidentiality.
- Consider overseas markets: Get professional advice regarding registering IP in international markets. Even if your business does not have any current plans to expand in that market, it may be an option down the track (particularly if you are selling goods overseas). You should consider registering your IP in the foreign jurisdictions. Additionally, it may provide some value to a purchaser of your business to know that you are protected in those markets.
- Prosecute thieves: Many forms of IP require the owner to ‘protect’ their IP by prosecuting those who steal or attempt to use their IP without permission or authority. A common example may be the use of two similar trade marks where one has been registered and the other has not. This may be an inadvertent act on the behalf of the infringing party, but it may have drastic consequences for the party who has registered their trade mark and who has to deal with the bad press or negativity associated with the infringing party’s use of their trade mark. Keeping up to date with the other players in your IP space will help ensure that your IP remains protection. It will also help you identify those infringing parties that you need to pursue. As always, we recommend consulting an IP professional to review your IP procedures. IP is engrained in the team at Bolter, so we would be more than happy to help, guide and advise you and your business on how to best structure and protect your precious intellectual property.