As technological advances are being made at lightning speed, Boston business owners are doing all they can to not only keep pace, but also to protect the intellectual property they are developing.
Our Boston business litigation attorneys know that, whether they are high-tech or low-tech solutions, having a plan in place to protect your intellectual property is vital to the survival of any enterprise.
On the low-tech side, there are non-compete agreements, signed by new employees before they begin work. These contracts serve to protect an employer’s trade secrets, to protect an employer’s customer relationships and also to prevent other firms from “stealing” an employee who has a special, unique or extraordinary job position, particularly when the firm has invested a great deal of time or special training on the employee.
On the high-tech side, this might increasingly involve the development of computer systems designed to protect your company’s private or sensitive information from outside hackers.
This is becoming a growing concern, as revealed by the just-released IP Commission Report on theft of American intellectual property. This not only applies to large-scale corporations; the nature of the Internet means that international theft of intellectual property can happen to virtually any company at any time.
According to the report, the scale of international theft of American intellectual property is “unprecedented,” costing firms about $300 billion annually. To offer a general comparison, this roughly equals the amount of goods we legally export to Asia.
The effects of this theft, the commission indicates, are that there is tremendous loss of revenue and rewards for those who created the inventions or who purchased licenses to provide services and goods based on them. Additionally, there is a marked amount of job loss and theft of intellectual property reduces the incentive for entrepreneurs to innovate.
The report indicates that China is the No. 1 source of IP theft in the world, accounting for between 50 and 80 percent of the problem. However, there are domestic culprits as well, and it certainly hasn’t been put past some competitors to break the law in order to get ahead.
President Obama has called this kind of cyber threat one of the “most serious economic and national security challenges we face.”
The IP Commission recommended a host of actions that Congress could take to reduce the risk to American firms. Those include:
- Designating a national security advisor to oversee principal policy coordination regarding the protection of American IP;
- Appoint the secretary of commerce with statutory authority to serve as the principal official to manage all of those policies;
- Strengthen the International Trade Commission’s 337 process to sequester goods that contain stolen IP;
- Increase the resources of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice to prosecute cases of trade theft, particularly those carried out over the internet;
- Enforce a strict supply-chain accountability for the U.S. government;
- Generously offer green cards to foreign students who earn degrees here in technology, science, engineering and mathematics, so that they would not return home to use their knowledge to compete against American companies.
All of those actions, of course, require a macro approach to the problem.
For individual companies, there are steps you can take to protect your intellectual property.
Kevin Hamlen, an associate professor of computer science specializing in software security, says companies can take the following measures to protect themselves:
- Don’t assume that expensive anti-virus technology will be enough to protect you.
- Expect that sophisticated attacks will get through, which means you will need a back-up technology.
- Instruct staffers not to open suspicious e-mail attachments, even if they appear to be sent from trusted people within the company.
- Require passwords or other techniques for sensitive files to ensure they are only opened by the person for whom those files are intended.
- If you are attacked, aggressively respond by de-activating compromised accounts.
If you can trace the hacking back to a certain IP address, particularly if it is a domestic one, you may have ample grounds to file a lawsuit against the offending parties, as such action is a form of theft.