Protect your stuff, Part II (…your information and data).
Remember Anthony Levandowski’s story about his attempt to take Waymo’s self-driving vehicle documents to a new employer? Were you surprised that key documents in the lawsuit included a project management spreadsheet?
Don’t be surprised. We all know that technology alone doesn’t create successful business. It’s just as likely that information relating to managing projects, setting objectives, monitoring suppliers or enticing new customers will have high business value.
Often, what sets apart competitors is not their technology, but their business approach. And all those ideas, information and data worthy of protection. Yup, those are your IP too.
Four basic steps.
In my last post, we surveyed how to protect your secrets:
(1) don’t tell others unless they need to know,
(2) store in a safe place;
(3) mark it “confidential”, “proprietary” or “secret”; and
(4) disclose it only after signing a confidentiality agreement [nondisclosure agreement or NDA].
Inside and out.
Take these same measures inside your business, as well. Like in the Waymo case, employees sometimes go to a competitor, so you need protections inside as well.
Train your people and colleagues how to handle information and data, and regularly reinforce key issues like not posting company information or data to social media, and departing employees shouldn’t take company information or data with them.
IP Myth: IP markings on documents don’t matter.
IP Fact: Marking material as secret, confidential or proprietary is required by many NDAs. The court will consider markings when deciding whether you deserve legal protection. Marking also helps your internal team handle it carefully.
What does it cost?
Because this is “self-help”, the costs are quite low – especially when you consider the volume of IP you can protect this way. But don’t cut corners. Make sure you have a solid NDA template prepared by a lawyer who understands your business, and that you understand the effect of any changes someone wants to make to your NDA before agreeing. Not all NDAs are the same. We’ll drill deeper into NDAs in a future post.
The four steps above are simple – but you need to consistently implement them to receive this type of protection. In court, you’ll need to show evidence of the steps you take. Your actions will speak louder than your words.
Timing is also key, because you can’t protect information or data after you release it to even one person without secrecy controls in place.
The other catch is you can’t protect against independent discovery or reverse-engineering this way. This is a powerful and practical IP protection, but it has its limits.
Always carefully apply your organization’s rules for protecting your information and data. And if you don’t have any rules, you need them.
In our next post, we’ll pull the curtain back on patents and enter a world you used to think was complicated.
- Your “business” IP is as valuable as your technology IP.
- Apply secrets protection principles even within your company’s walls.
- Have a good NDA template that is suited to your business
- Actions speak louder than words: You must actually implement protective measures.
*Todd is Chief IP Officer at Scale AI, and a lawyer, patent agent and IP strategist with 25 years’ experience helping startups, SMEs and multinationals protect and commercialize their IP.
Please Note: Concepts discussed here have been simplified to facilitate learning. You should consult a qualified IP lawyer or agent to discuss your unique IP needs. Protecting your IP should not be a do-it-yourself project.
Scale AI is Canada’s AI Supercluster, investing in AI supply chain projects, acceleration and talent development across Canada. Visit us at www.scaleai.ca to see how we can help your business grow.