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Technology

How to protect your intellectual property

Intellectual property (IP) is essential to many organisations but developing and protecting it is no easy task. Here’s how to secure your innovative ideas.

Key takeaways
  • Understanding what IP is, and how it differentiates a business, is critical

  • Some IP is protected automatically, but patents and trade marks should be applied for

  • IP needs protection from cyber thieves; third parties may help you keep it secure

Regardless of how your business has fared during the pandemic, there is a chance you’ve been thinking up new ways of working, new products, new designs or processes that you can’t wait to implement and exploit. These innovations are part of your intellectual property (IP) and will need protecting before someone else copies and earns revenue from them.

What is intellectual property, and why does it need to be protected?

IP is mostly an intangible, non-physical asset to your business, an intellectual “good” that you have created and own, and that cannot be used to anyone else without your consent. Types of IP and the way to protect it include:

  • Copyrights: literary works, art, photography, music, web content

  • Trade marks: product names, logos

  • Registered designs: the shape, packaging and decorations on your products

  • Patents: inventions and innovations, such as tools and medicines

According to the IP Exchange Analysis Report, by business consultancy Prospect IP, a company’s IP can make up to 80% of its value – which is why it’s so important to protect it.

“Intellectual property protection helps stop people copying or stealing your inventions, designs, names of your product or brands and the things you write, produce, or make.” says Tim Rawlins, Senior Adviser at NCC Group, which specialises in software escrow and cyber security. Tim adds that it also shields your right to make money from what you own and is likely to be a core part of any business.

“Protecting your rights can go a long way to add value to the organisation and so getting the protection right can make a real difference,” says Neil Bellamy, Head of Technology, Media, Telecoms and Services at NatWest. “Your trade secrets and confidential information can also be counted as IP, and protecting that information means having an effective information security policy in place so that your staff, contractors and partners know how to look after your sensitive information properly.”

While you automatically have copyright for your artistic works (such as music, literature, sound recordings) and database rights (if you have invested heavily in the creation of a database), there are other protections such as trade marks, patents and registered designs that have to be applied for.

“It can take time to obtain the protection your ideas need,” adds Bellamy. “Sometimes this means years for a patent to be granted because checks need to be made that another party hasn’t already patented an identical concept.”

Protecting your rights can go a long way to add value to the organisation, so getting the protection right can make a real difference

Neil Bellamy, Head of Technology, Media, Telecoms and Services, NatWest
But this needn’t put a brake on development, according to Bellamy. “In the meantime, if you need to discuss your innovation with a potential collaborator, investor, developer, accountant, bank, coach or reseller, you should make use of a non-disclosure agreement (NDA),” he says. “These NDAs can be mutual or one-way, depending on whether you’re giving the other party information or you are both sharing something that needs to be protected.”
The benefits of added security

When it comes to registering your idea, or sharing it, it might be worth putting the information into escrow with a third party. With an effective NDA in place, the escrow holder can take a secure copy of the information, which might be source code for your application or the electronic designs of a new piece of kit, and hold it safely. The escrow legal agreement and safe-keeping process documentation can be used to demonstrate, if required, the date when the information was created and stored.  

Tim says: “This might be important if someone else claims they had invented the same idea before you and so seeks to revoke your patent. The evidence of your drawings, code or drafts can all be date-stamped and stored sequentially so the development of the IP is clear.”

Selecting a well-established partner with the capabilities and experience to hold your IP in escrow is a good start. It need not be expensive, but it will help protect and defend your IP, should it be challenged. And then ensure you have the security measures in place to protect your crown jewels – the new IP that might just make your business stand out – while protecting all your IT from the threat of cyber attack. Get a security partner who will help with the policies, put the protection in place and constantly monitor your networks so that they and you are able to respond quickly when the problems arise.

When choosing an escrow partner, it’s important to:

  • Consider their capabilities to protect the material you are putting into safe keeping

  • Check they have a first-class security operations centre to monitor the environment where the information is stored

  • Ensure they have an effective secure online portal that offers convenient and flexible depositing of your information, so you can update the escrow holding with the material as you develop it

Information security policy

“A third party can also help develop the information security policies that you need to protect your working documents, trade strategies, pricing models and secret formulas,” says Tim.

He explains that a simple policy should set out the organisation’s intent to handle information securely and the obligation on staff to follow the policies and procedures you give them. “You should always do the security basics – multi-factor authentication, long passwords (using three random words), frequent patching and updating of software and systems etc., and off-line backups.”

Protection from cyber attack

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) warns that ransomware and malware attacks put your IP at risk. No organisation, whatever its size or sector, is safe from malicious hackers who will try to exploit every vulnerability in your people, processes and technology. According to the government’s Cyber Security Breaches Survey, published in March 2021, 39% of businesses had suffered a cyber breach or attack in the previous 12 months, and 7% of those were ransomware attacks.

Having the third-party security monitoring in place relieves you of the burden of constantly monitoring threats, says Tim. “Their security operations centres operate 24/7 and can monitor, detect and respond immediately. The off-line back-ups might be held by the same firm doing escrow so that you are following the 3-2-1 rule of three back-ups, two on different storage media, and one securely off-site.”

For more information on cyber security services, visit NCC Group.

This article was written in collaboration with NCC Group Software Resilience, the world's largest Software Escrow provider. Visit their insight blog for actionable resources and helpful information.

This material is published by NatWest Group plc (“NatWest Group”), for information purposes only and should not be regarded as providing any specific advice. Recipients should make their own independent evaluation of this information and no action should be taken, solely relying on it. This material should not be reproduced or disclosed without our consent. It is not intended for distribution in any jurisdiction in which this would be prohibited. Whilst this information is believed to be reliable, it has not been independently verified by NatWest Group and NatWest Group makes no representation or warranty (express or implied) of any kind, as regards the accuracy or completeness of this information, nor does it accept any responsibility or liability for any loss or damage arising in any way from any use made of or reliance placed on, this information. Unless otherwise stated, any views, forecasts, or estimates are solely those of the NatWest Group Economics Department, as of this date and are subject to change without notice.

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