Business Practices for Protecting Intellectual Property
Protection of intellectual property can be significantly enhanced by the adoption of various business practices that are specifically directed to deter or prevent the misuse or misappropriation of intellectual property. Unlike the legal regimes discussed above, these practices are generally specifically directed to preventing misuse or misappropriation of intellectual property by owners, partners or employees of a business.
Business owners rightly fear unethical competitors may attempt to misappropriate or infringe their intellectual property. What most businesses fail to take into account is the enemy within. While there may be are no enemies within your business, but the time may come when an employee or business partner may betray you – even friends, relatives and spouses.
For example, your business partner could break off from your business, form a new business competing directly with your business, and
- Start selling products and/or services that copy your business's products and/or services.
- Copy your business's customer lists and start soliciting your current customers.
- Use a trademark or trade dress confusingly similar to yours.
- Claim to be the inventor of your most important product.
An employee could
- Claim an interest in patented inventions or copyrighted materials.
- Copy trade secrets and give them to their new employer or use them to open their own business.
- File a patent application for an invention under development by your business.
These kinds of betrayals happen all the time, and may well be more of a risk than unethical competitors. People who engage in this type of behavior aren't necessarily bad people or fundamentally dishonest. Most likely, some set of circumstances have occurred in which they feel cheated, underappreciated or possibly some set of circumstances has arisen that has rendered them financially or personally desperate.
Fortunately, some basic, common sense business practices can be used to diffuse such problems before they occur. Such practices include clarity in the ownership of intellectual property assets, agreements to assign intellectual property rights, non-disclosure agreements and non-compete agreements, as discussed below.