Intellectual property theft continues to be an expensive business problem around the world, costing businesses billions of dollars. While you might have some of it protected already, what happens when one of your employees decides to move on to another company and clandestinely takes some of your intellectual property (IP) with them? It is a problem we are continually starting to see in various high-profile litigation cases that claim someone who once worked for one company stole IP and had it developed at a rival company.
A recent case involves the popular Oculus virtual reality (VR) technology. Oculus is accused of using VR technology already being developed by another company called ZeniMax. In the case, a former employee who worked for ZeniMax is said to have taken VR code with him and helped develop it when working with Oculus. It is a contentious case in which Oculus firmly denies ever having stolen anything.
Hundreds of businesses that are not household names are dealing with the same thing. The problem comes in employees being made privy to trade secrets and other ideas that can perhaps be memorized. Trade secrets can sometimes be a very simple formula or idea that someone else could commit to memory and take for development at a rival company. Or, if you have unprotected IP lying around in your company, it could be taken in tow by a departed employee for development elsewhere.
How can you prevent that from happening to avoid litigation when finding out someone is developing one of your ideas in another place?
IP and trade secret agreements
These precautionary legal agreements for employees are sometimes made in case the exployee who was hired to create something won't claim ownership later. In most cases, filing a copyright will help determine that you are going to be the owner of the property, even if you hired an independent contractor to create the initial work. During these times, any independent contractor you hire to create intellectual property should sign a "Work for Hire" agreement that differentiates who will benefit in the future after the work is created.
In the realm of trade secret agreements, it gets more thorny. That is because most agreements cannot be enforced beyond two years, hence sometimes making them useless long term. Regardless, it is always a good idea to have employees sign one if you are planning on quick employee turnover. If they happen to take your trade secret and develop it through their own company or another employer within months of the agreement, you will have better legal standing.
Limiting employee access to your IP
Other than direct protection of your IP through copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, and patents, you might want to limit access of your IP with employees. Which employees do you trust accessing your trade secrets or general IP? Do you have a commitment from certain employees to stick around for a long time so they will take part in protecting your IP and trade secrets?
Few companies can control when their employees leave, however you should be able to make educated decisions on who has complete access to things you guard with your business life. If only the most trusted employees know your trade secrets, then not everyone can commit it to memory and use it elsewhere.
Also, consider setting up rules on what kind of information employees should be allowed to give to unknowns calling your company. Spies from competing companies frequently gather information this way, including scoping out information at trade shows.
Contact us to find out more about our services and how we can educate you on how to further protect your IP from competitors out to steal ideas.