Whether they defend your trade secrets or handle confidential information about your customers, you rely on your employees to protect your intellectual property (IP). However, your employees can also be the greatest threat to that intellectual property. How can you protect your IP from intentional or unintentional breach by your employees?
Be sure to have clear policies in place for current employees.
Your employees may work with a variety of sensitive and confidential information every day, and uncertainty about your policies could present the greatest danger to this information. Careless employee behavior is one of the greatest causes of intellectual property breaches, but clear policies can help your workers determine the best way to handle this information. Your policies may also dissuade other employees from intentionally endangering your IP. Consider establishing policies for your IP in your employee handbook and clearly labeling all sensitive and confidential information.
Understand the risks that former employees can pose to your trade secrets.
When an employee leaves your company—whether because you terminated their employment or because they have found an opportunity elsewhere—the knowledge that they have of your company’s intellectual property could put your business at risk. You may want to take steps in an exit interview to remind them of any confidentiality agreements or other responsibilities that they have to your company.
It is also important to retrieve company property and to remind them about the confidential status of your company’s data. Many workers—nearly half of American respondents according to some surveys—keep documents from their work after their employment ends, and this can create a breach of sensitive customer information, your company’s upcoming developments and more.
Take a proactive approach to legal protections.
Whether you register a patent or utilize a nondisclosure or confidentiality agreement to protect trade secrets and other sensitive information, your business can take steps to protect your IP. Not only do these legal protections help employees identify confidential information, they can provide the foundation for future legal action if employees breach your intellectual property.