Keeping Intellectual Property Safe

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One of the most important parts of being a startup or small business is developing a solid intellectual property. It can do one of two things: ensure your company has a solid foundation as a product or service or put your company or IP in a position to be bought for a large sum of money. For example, late in 2017, Amazon snapped up Blink, a security camera company.

The global retailer was interested in the chipset Blink developed for the cameras. The technology, which allows the cameras to run off of a lithium battery for two years, could be integrated into Amazon’s Echo platform. Amazon paid a staggering $90 million, or about £64 million, for the possibility of untethering Echos from a wired power supply. No matter whether you intend on using or selling your IP, it’s important to keep it safe. Let’s talk investors and security.

Investors

If you have ever watched Dragon’s Den, or the American version, Shark Tank, one of the most important questions the investors ask is whether the presenters have a patent or copyright for their idea. Forbes said in 2015 that intangible assets — such as IPs — account for about 90 percent of an early-stage company’s value. As of 2016, UK investment in intangible assets — IPs — was about £63.5 billion, up from £23.8 billion from two decades ago.

A major component investors will need information on is how your product fits into the marketplace. Another highly important factor is a company owning employees’ inventions, writing, and other intellectual property. Otherwise, the employee can use the IP by themselves.

However, employees could, theoretically, also steal the IP, as in the Waymo v. Uber suit. The lawsuit, regarding technology used in self-driving cars, ended in a major settlement worth more than $200 million. Google contended an employee stole trade secrets, a type of IP of in the United States, that Uber then tried to use after the employee switched companies. How, then, can you protect your own IP from a similar situation or outside interference?

Security

Why bother protecting your IP? Consider this: In 2013, creative industries contributed £76.9 billion to the UK economy. The same year, the UK Border Force intercepted 1.6 million IP-infringing items, with a total retail value of £56 million.

In the aforementioned case, Google alleged that Anthony Levandowski, a former engineer and co-founder of Google’s self-driving car arm Waymo, downloaded 14,000 secret documents and left the company to work for Uber. Stopping thieves within the company is not easy, involving limiting access to documents and recording who accesses documents and when; stopping outside thieves is a simple matter of digital security.

You could, of course, keep hard copies offsite in long-term storage. A storage facility will provide their own security, making it difficult for thieves to simply lift the documents. If you only have hard copies offsite, it could be hard for employees to do their jobs. This would be best as a backup to digital copies.

Digital copies means needing cloud security. When transmitting data from the cloud, it’s essential to use encryption, such as SSL, and if possible, a virtual private network. Default credentials should be changed immediately, or your patent ideas could be stolen by entering “admin” and “password.” As mentioned above, limit access only to employees with a critical need to access the documents.

Valve and Valuable Source Code

If your company offers a digital service or software as a product, investors will likely turn their backs on a company with a stolen IP released for a greatly reduced cost on the dark web, much like credit cards.

Valve, a juggernaut in computer gaming, saw the code for Half-Life 2 stolen in 2003. A German fan of the first game hacked Valve’s servers and accessed the source code. He was soon arrested and charged with $250 million (£178.6 million) in damages. While this was 15 years ago, and security has improved, it illustrates that it’s still possible for a major company to see its IP stolen in moments. Valve still went on to make a fortune off the game, considered one of the best in the history of video games, but that’s in part because they were already a big-name player in their industry. A smaller business suffering a leaked IP will have a hard time finding investors or buyers.

It is likely that your IP will define your business and how you do business. It could be your golden goose, or at the very least a lottery ticket to being sold for a good sum. Store your IP in a secure place, limit employee access, and keep your money-maker safe.

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