For entrepreneurs and others involved with small businesses and startups, there is a lot of hard work that goes into trying to make the business a success. You spend long hours and untold effort into building a strong foundation for your company. Along the way, you undoubtedly make personal sacrifices to try and achieve your goals, missing out on time with friends and family to put the extra time in that will hopefully pay off in the long run. For founders and others who care deeply about the fortunes of the company, there is almost nothing within reason you wouldn’t do to make sure that your company’s future is secure.
Unfortunately, that passion doesn’t always translate into knowledge or awareness. For all the measures that companies take to try and protect themselves, there are often things that go overlooked due to a simple lack of understanding. Entrepreneurs are not gifted a guide to know every problem or issue that they’re going to run into, especially their first time through. Many learn these things the hard way, and are left to use those lessons in the future and try to impart them to others. One area where entrepreneurs are learning these lessons far too often is with their intellectual property.
Intellectual property isn’t exactly the sexiest aspect of your business. It’s much easier to show off a slick website or nice office to potential clients or investors. But your intellectual property is the backbone of your business; it’s what allows you to have the website and the offices. Your company is built upon those ideas, whether it’s a new and innovative idea or product or simply a new way of doing things. And far too many businesses neglect this important part of their business.
Do you have an idea that's been sitting around your company with easy accessibility. Do you know how to protect your idea from being stolen? Taking action to create your intellectual property (IP) strategy and protect your ideas from being stolen is an important aspect of running a successful business. You're playing risk if you have ideas sitting around in document form that's deemed a creative work, or perhaps a trade secret. When it comes to trade secrets being stolen, you're in for a rude awakening when it comes to how many new cases are occurring lately.
Some quick internet searches will pull up any number of cases involving infringement of trademarks, copyrights, and patents, as well as the outright theft of the physical manifestation of a company’s ideas, like prototypes or sketches. And as much as we can all agree that cases like that are a scary reminder of the dangers that exist for businesses, we’re all susceptible to the “it won’t happen to me” line of thinking when it comes to bad things that might happen to us. But merely hoping that nothing bad will happen is no way to run a business, and with a few relatively simple steps, you can help to keep your business’ intellectual property safe.
Trade Secret Agreements
Depending on what your company does, there is a good chance that you may have trade secrets. Trade secrets aren’t merely the secret processes or formulas that you use in creating your product; they can also be your unique marketing campaigns or customer lists. And you don’t want this valuable information to walk out the door with a disgruntled ex-employee. That’s why having trade secret agreements for all your employees and contractors (and also co-founders) are vital.
All trade secret agreements will differ slightly, but the general point is the same: those who sign it are agreeing to not take or share trade secrets after leaving the company, under threat of legal action. These often go hand-in-hand with non-compete agreements that forbid employees from working in the same field for a certain period of time. While some employees may balk at the restrictions, it’s important to hold a strong position on keeping your trade secrets in house. Make sure that everyone working for you has trade secret agreements signed and on file (and ideally, employment agreements as well.)
Read Part 2 Next week.