Intellectual Property and Trade Secrets

What is Intellectual Property (IP)

Intellectual property (IP) is something unique that is physically created by an individual or a company. Nearly every company and organization generate and maintain IP, and many go to great length and expense to protect these assets.

Copyright, patents, designs, and trademarks are all types of intellectual property protection. Information that is proprietary to a business, such as know-how, trade secrets, and confidential information, may also attract legal protection. An idea by itself is not IP. For example, a great idea for a book only becomes protectable (by copyright) once you’ve written it down. It’s very important that we protect our IP, and we’re relying on you to help ensure we keep our IP and trade secrets secure at all times.

Protecting Our IP
Let’s take a look at some of the key questions concerning IP that you need to be able answer to ensure you protect our intellectual property rights (IPRs) and also respect the IPRs of others.

Why is it important to protect our IP?
Our company’s success depends on innovation and maintaining the reputation of our brand. Protecting the ownership and control of our intellectual property is the key to this.

A strong IP portfolio can also generate income through licensing rights, add leverage in negotiating collaborations and joint ventures, and attract investors.

How do we protect our IP?
Having the right type of IP protection assists us in stopping other people from stealing or copying:

  • Our products and brands names
  • Our inventions
  • The design of our products and how they look
  • Things we write, make, or produce This enables us to exploit the relevant rights, generally for a fixed period of time. Some types of protection will automatically arise; others we have to apply for formally.

What happens to the IP you create, and how can you help us protect company IP?

The intellectual property rights (IPRs) that you create in your work as an employee of the company belong to the company. There are a number of practical steps that we can take to protect our IP. These include:

  •  Classifying all IP material as confidential information and handling that information in a secure way
  •  Limiting access to IP material on a need-to-know basis
  •  Performing competitor/brand watches and patent, trademark, and design searches
  •  Ensuring all employees and any third parties we engage with adhere to our IP policy
  •  Ensuring that appropriate contracts are signed when we are disclosing confidential information or looking to authorize others to use our IPR in a limited way (on specific, agreed terms)

What are the consequences of an IP infringement?
Depending on the nature and seriousness of the infringement, there is a range of possible sanctions, including:

  •  Injunctions to prevent the use of the IP
  •  Seizure or destruction of infringing goods
  •  Payment of damages to the IP rights holder
  •  Seizure of the profits of the infringer
  •  Criminal penalties, including fines and imprisonment Some sanctions can be imposed on individuals, as well as, or instead of, any organization that is involved in the infringement.

Handling Third-Party IP
When using materials that have been created externally, you must be aware of the danger of infringing on a third party’s IPRs.

When can third-party IPR be infringed?
Third-party IPR infringement may happen if you use someone else’s IP in a way that you are not authorized to do. Any third-party materials must be checked to ensure that you are not infringing on others’ IPRs in these. This also applies to material you access online – when reusing material, always check the licensing conditions. If the materials are able to be reused, you may need to get permission from the rights holder or at least credit them. You should never disclose any confidential information you receive from third parties, such as suppliers or customers, as this may infringe on their IPRs.

Are there other situations where IPR infringements may occur?
Third-party IPR infringement may also happen if we, for example, procure a product from Company A, but Company A has incorporated materials owed by Company B in that product without authorization from Company B. In that situation, Company B could look to enforce its rights against our company because we are using a product that infringes on their IPRs. It is, therefore, important that we ensure that we have strong contractual protections in place with Company A that cover us in this situation.

Protecting Our IP
Imelda experienced a eureka moment recently, which led her to discover a new technique that greatly improves productivity. The implications for our business processes could be enormous. She asks you what the first thing is that she should do in relation to her discovery? What would you tell her?

  • Carefully document the invention in accordance with company IP, security, and confidentiality policies and promptly discuss with the appropriate department how best to protect it.
  • Prepare a paper for submission to an eminent business journal and let the appropriate department know that you are going to submit the paper.
  • Set up a meeting with her colleagues to share this fantastic news.
  • Post an outline of her findings on her social networking site.

Thanks for Helping Imelda
If Imelda discloses her invention publicly – or to anyone who is not an employee of our company – she places the information in the public domain. This may jeopardize our ability to protect any IPRs and may cause us to lose our competitive advantage.
It’s important to remember that:

  •  All IP you create as an employee is the property of the company and is protected by laws relating to IP, confidentiality, and contract.
  •  You should never publicly disclose information about company IP in an outside publication or forum without obtaining permission for the disclosure.
  •  You should always restrict access to information about IP at the proper level to ensure maximum protection.
  •  You should never use the company’s facilities to receive, copy, or destroy unauthorized material protected by third-party IP.
  •  You need to tell us immediately if you think our company IP is being infringed.
Download our Intellectual property and trade secrets booklet.
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