Intellectual property (IP) is among a company’s most valuable assets. But in today’s economy, industry members are highly interconnected, and professionals often work for multiple companies during the course of their careers—which means any company’s IP is regularly at risk. While most professionals wouldn’t take advantage of holding inside information about their current or previous company, it only takes one bad actor or thoughtless disclosure to jeopardize a company’s unique IP.
So how do you ensure that your past (or even current) employees don’t share company secrets? There are always non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), but there’s more to the puzzle than that. To help you take multiple measures to protect your IP, read the expert tips from 10 Forbes Technology Council members below.
1. Set A No-Tolerance Precedent
Securing your company’s intellectual property is a two-step process. First, cover IP ownership in your employment contract. Second, take swift and comprehensive legal action if your IP is compromised. You must set a no-tolerance precedent that will deter future theft and prove you are willing to defend your property if the issue arises again. – Tammy Cohen, InfoMart Inc.
2. Support And Credit Your Employees
The first step is to clearly define which assets are restricted under NDAs and which are not. For future work, your employees need to be able to display experience to retain their market value and show proof of credibility. Help them by clearly outlining what they can showcase, leading to a positive balance of trust and agreement. Also, consider mentioning their name on products they’ve developed. – Artem Petrov, Reinvently
3. Understand What Defines IP In Your Company
Whether it involves employees, contractors, outsource partners or concern about cyber attacks, be proactive about protecting IP. The first step is taking stock of what IP entails in your company and categorizing it. Make sure you have solid proprietary information or invention agreements that include input from legal, HR and IT. Keep employees informed about your policies and the need for vigilance. – Anna Frazzetto, Harvey Nash
4. Limit Privileges
Intellectual property, such as the codebase of a product, should be compartmentalized, with minimum access permissions granted to any single employee. A product’s underlying files and code should be secured conceptually, similar to one of the primary tenets of object-oriented programming. That is, keep logically separate “objects” secured and abstracted with minimal access permissions on each. – Todd Rebner, Cyleron
5. Craft NDAs Carefully And Use With Both Employees And Clients
Take the time to craft well-written nondisclosure agreements for all of your employees to sign in order to protect your intellectual property, and include it in client contracts too. If you’ve never written an NDA before there are a lot of templates online to help you get started. It’s also wise to consult with a trained professional when crafting legal documents. – Thomas Griffin, OptinMonster
6. Have Someone Dedicated To Managing IP
In a technology company, your value is based on the technology you build. I have a full-time IP manager whose sole responsibility is to make sure that employees are not taking any data from our company servers back to their homes. He is responsible for tracking activity for all employees, making backups of all systems daily and making sure no former employees are breaking their contracts. – Evan Luthra, EL Group International
7. Analyze Employee Behavior
Former employees have the potential to become insider threats. If they are at a competing company, then they may be tempted to share intellectual property in order to advance their career. Communication between IT security and human resources is key. Also, by being proactive and having security teams observe user behavior, they may be able to catch potential attackers before intellectual property is stolen. – Stephen Moore, Exabeam
8. Set Up A Seamless Offboarding Experience
It’s never easy to say goodbye to a beloved employee. As you bid them farewell, it’s important to quickly and efficiently offboard them from all relevant systems. This is when your IP is most at risk, as former employees still reside on your systems but may use that IP for their future workplace. Invest in a system like Rippling, which offboards automatically, keeping your company’s IP secure. – Marc Fischer, Dogtown Media LLC
9. Focus On Retaining Employees
The greatest asset that an organization has is not its intellectual property, but its employees. Rather than focusing on the controls that protect intellectual property, the great focus should be on retaining the employees who develop it. One of the challenges of today’s business environment is that organizations are often not invested in their employee base, resulting in a loss of invested employees. – Danny Allan, Veeam Software
10. Make Sure Employee Values Are Aligned With The Company’s
Requiring all employees to sign an inventions assignment is an important first step. But a company’s policies, procedures and values must be consistent and align with employees and their respect for their team members. This is crucial to helping to keep someone ethically conscientious and not swayed toward damaging their once-fellow teammates. – Robb Osinski, Bambu Global