Many in AI say they protect IP as a trade secret. It makes sense: AI’s magic is mostly hidden from prying eyes. But trade secrets actually provide only weak legal protection, and don’t often succeed in court.
Even so, secrets can still protect IP – IF you follow 3 OBVIOUS rules:
1) Don’t tell anyone.
The biggest risk to secrets is NOT hacking or theft – the biggest risk is just below your nose.
If people don’t know stuff, they can’t take it from you.
But founders, engineers, scientists, and technologists love explaining their ideas. They’re quite proud of them – and they should be!
But if you’re protecting IP as a secret, then a higher purpose calls.
Even under NDA, learn to communicate without giving away all the ingredients.
2) Your friends aren’t your “friends”.
Two realities collide here: we are less careful when we’re comfortable, and the people closest to us pose the biggest threat.
This is not paranoia: almost 100% of disputes over AI secrets involve customers, vendors, collaborators, employees or co-founders. Because they had access to the secrets and understood them (…because you explained them!)
“Sometimes paranoia is just having all the facts.”
-William S. Burroughs
People can’t work in cones of silence, however you can communicate strategically, through what you say and what you don’t. But to do that also requires understanding what your secrets are.
3) What are you protecting?
If you don’t know what you’re protecting, it’s not really protected.
I call these “phantom secrets”.
Your IP is the ideas, information and data that differentiate your business. Like novel use cases, code and approaches to difficult problems. “Important” IP is the stuff that plays a key role in important business goals.
So, what important IP do you need to protect? You need to know.
Following these 3 principles – that you’ve known all your life – can help you protect your IP secrets. The main protection comes from you, and how you manage what you say – and to whom.
What’s not obvious?
Protecting IP secrets is the most difficult type of IP protection.
You need a plan, and it requires daily effort.
If you want to be lazy, get a patent.
Just telling people that you protect secrets = doing nothing about IP. (Savvy investors won’t be fooled.)
So, what are you doing to protect your IP secrets?