Many companies turn to the experts—lawyers, generally—for help educating staff and getting their commitment to protect IP. Jeff Feldman of Feldman Gale is often called in to do IP counseling for employees. Seminars covering IP basics can help the organization immunize itself against the virus of IP leakage, which can take benign-looking forms.
[Also read about the basics of internal investigations]
An in-house patent lawyer at a healthcare company laments the collegial way doctors tend to share data. "It's like an academic environment—they're just trying to further the cause of medicine. But they don't understand that the company has shareholders, and the company has to make investment decisions for its shareholders," he says. This attorney does training based on real-life scenarios, telling people, "Don't let this be you."
Feldman's bugaboo is idea misappropriation. He has seen too many instances where a former employee tries to claim credit for the idea behind a product or service. He also cringes when content and entertainment companies have no clear-cut idea-submission policy.
"Follow the lead of Google and Facebook and have a policy: 'You send me an idea, it's mine,'" he advises. Eliminate the implied duty of confidentiality right out of the box, and avoid claims down the road.
A Cautionary Tale
Virtually everyone interviewed for this story warned that IP is highly perishable. Once the secret is out, it's out. And the consequences can be dire.
Prescott Winter, CTO of the public sector for HP Enterprise Security Products, was advising a small high-tech company that was hit by the Google Aurora attacks in 2010. This company spent a significant portion of its revenue on research and development.
"They only had about nine months of profit on their new products, about a 35% to 40% return on investment," says Winter. After that, the return rates dropped off. "The advantage they had dissipated immediately. They had overlapping nine- to 12-month bumps in revenue. If three of those high-revenue product cycles in a row were to be damaged or destroyed because a competitor gets the information, game over." Post-Aurora, the company was forced to shut down.
"They were unable to respond before their future was stolen," says Winter. "So many companies are hanging by a thread." In the words of the patent lawyer, don't let this be you.
The IP Landscape
Your company's intellectual property may encompass a wider range of items than you've considered, including: