Small companies are now becoming increasingly involved in a growing epidemic of cyber espionage that once targeted only corporate giants. In the last several years, hackers working on behalf of foreign governments or even domestic competitors have been actively targeting small companies that have valuable intellectual property and corporate secrets but lack the security protocols of larger businesses. Your own business may not be targeted by the Chinese or the Koreans, but if you have valuable intellectual property, you can be certain that someone is trying to get their hands on it.

Every business is different and has different intellectual property considerations, so it’s important to develop a strategy to protect your inventions, innovations, and information. Your trade name, ideas, concepts, and customer lists are also critical assets that need protecting. Intellectual properties are the inventions, marks, designs, or works of authorship that you and your business create. These include:

  • brands, trademarks, logos, and designs
  • trade secrets or formulas
  • copyrights or unique works of authorship including but not limited to software, books, artwork, brochures, articles, and music

Small businesses with big digital assets are the companies most frequently targeted by hackers. That’s according to Ashar Aziz, the founder and chief executive of FireEye Inc., a Milpitas, California, security firm that protects companies and government agencies from cyber-attacks.

Small and mid-sized companies being pursued for acquisition by larger players are prime targets for hackers, and so are businesses with valuable intellectual property of their own: small defense firms, specialty manufacturers, high-tech startups, and hedge funds.

Washington D.C. intellectual property attorney

According to the Mandiant Corporation, an Alexandria, Virginia-based information security firm, one reason that smaller companies are targets is because the larger governmental and corporate operations have bolstered their computer security. “Small companies are targeted now because there’s high return at fairly little effort,” says Grady Summers, a vice president at Mandiant and former chief information security officer at General Electric. The candid truth is that it’s virtually impossible to stop a talented and determined hacker. There are no absolute guarantees, but you can make your business less vulnerable, give your intellectual property the best possible protection, and diminish any damage by considering these five strategies:

  1. FIGHT SPEAR PHISHING
    Many intellectual property thefts begin with spear phishing. Spear phish is an email that appears to be from an individual or business that you know. But it isn’t. It’s from criminal hackers out to steal your intellectual property or other useful information. If someone clicks a link or opens an attachment in the email, it infects that computer and any network it’s connected to with malware which allows thieves to take what they please. Spear phishing exploits our natural human curiosity, but the right spam filtering combined with effective employee education can help you combat spear phishing.
  1. FIGHT MALWARE
    Up-to-date antivirus software is imperative – it’s your active defense against malware. But because it works by stopping only already-known malware threats, you’re still vulnerable to new threats. Keep your antivirus software as up-to-date as possible. One of the best defenses against malware – because it usually works by exploiting a software flaw – is to apply updates immediately for every application you use, and especially for Microsoft and Adobe products, which are the most frequent targets. You should also consider scanning tools and a web-filtering service that lets you block sites by category and provides you with reports on employee web activity.
  1. CONTROL ACCESS
    Hackers exploit smaller companies where security is likely to be casual or only casually enforced. If your receptionist’s computer is hacked, can thieves access your research and development? Large companies and some branches of government control access with complicated identity and access management programs, systems, and protocols, Options are now coming to the market to provide comparable security to smaller operations. Symplified, Inc., for example, markets a cloud-based access management service, and Route1 offers a device that employees can plug in to remotely access what they’re authorized to use.
  1. RETAIN SECURITY SERVICES
    If you don’t have the resources to lock down your network yourself, you can give the job to a managed security services firm. Network security demands a range of services to meet your security requirements. These companies offer state-of-the-art technologies, seasoned security professionals, and 24/7 support services at prices affordable to most small and mid-sized businesses.
  1. CRAFT A RESPONSE PLAN
    Hackers looking to steal intellectual property can establish and maintain a silent presence on a targeted network for months and even years, stealing small bits of valuable information the entire time. Digging them out as quickly as possible is imperative. Educate your employees to spot and report suspicious activity, and put a plan in place for how you will investigate and respond to a security breach. If you genuinely believe that you cannot protect your intellectual properties and other valuable informational or creative assets, keep them off the network, or keep them as hard copies. You might still have to worry about a safecracker – or a current employee – but a hacker can’t steal something if it’s not on a computer.A hacker may be a stranger on the other side of the nation or globe, but you also have to protect your intellectual property from the people who work for and with you – and unfortunately, simply liking or trusting someone isn’t enough. If you own a small or mid-sized business, let an intellectual property lawyer recommend ways to implement and manage legal intellectual property protection. Your wisest choice is to retain an attorney with substantial experience enforcing and protecting intellectual property rights for a variety of business clients. In the Washington D.C. area or anywhere in the U.S., you can begin obtaining the legal assistance you’ll need by speaking with an experienced Washington D.C. intellectual property attorney.

The law protects intellectual properties, so take advantage of that protection. Intellectual property laws were created to reward and benefit creativity and innovation. If your intellectual property is not protected legally – as well as “virtually” – now is the time to protect it; a lawsuit will be far more costly and time-consuming than any fees you’ll pay now for the legal protection of your intellectual property. When an employee leaves a company and takes intellectual property, a number of legal issues can come into play: trade secret misappropriation, copyright infringement, and violations of non-compete clauses or confidentiality. An intellectual property attorney can draft the confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements, employment agreements, and contractor agreements that will legally protect your creations, information, and ideas. Different legal tools – patents, trademarks, and copyrights – are used to protect different types of intellectual property.

PATENTS

In the U.S., patents may be available to any person who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, “or any new and useful improvement thereof.” Patent protection is obtained through applying to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. An intellectual property lawyer can provide you with details and guide you through the application process. The three types of patents are utility, design, and plant patents:

  • A utility patent may be issued to someone who invents or discovers a new process, device, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any improvement thereof;
  • A design patent may be issued to someone who invents a new, original design for an article of manufacture.
  • A plant patent may be issued to someone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces a distinct, new variety of plant.

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TRADEMARKS

One of the most important aspects of public awareness for any business is creating a name, symbol, or logo that people instantly identify – a trademark. Trademarks protect words, names, symbols, sounds, or colors that distinguish goods and services from those manufactured or sold by others. Registration with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is not required, but registering your trademark gives you the exclusive right to use it on your products and in your advertising and marketing, and it legally keeps others from copying or exploiting your trademark and the trustworthy reputation that you’ve worked hard to establish.

COPYRIGHTS

Technological advances such as digitization and the internet have made the reproduction and global distribution of copyrighted works both easy and cheap. As a result, copyright enforcement has become an issue of heightened concern for businesses around the world. In the United States, the U.S. Copyright Office handles copyright registration. Copyrights protect:

  • literary, musical, and dramatic works
  • architectural works
  • pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • pantomimes and choreographic works
  • motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • sound recordings
  • computer programs

Almost every business creates brochures, catalogs, advertising, manuals, logos, and web sites that require copyright protection. Simply stated, the copyright owner has the exclusive right to copy, change, distribute, perform, or display the work publicly or to authorize others to do so.

TRADE SECRETS

There is no formal legal mechanism exclusively for the registration of trade secrets, but business owners have several good options for securing trade secret protection. Those options include the creation and enforcement of confidentiality agreements and employee non-compete agreements. Hinging on the nature of your trade secrets, an intellectual property lawyer can help you create an effective trade secret program or process for your business. If your trade secret has been stolen or leaked, in most cases an experienced intellectual property lawyer can help you take effective legal action against whoever who has violated a non-compete or a non-disclosure agreement. If you need to have trade secrets protected, if you have any questions or concerns regarding intellectual property protection, or if you need legal representation regarding an intellectual property dispute, promptly contact an experienced Washington, D.C. intellectual property attorney.

Posted in: Intellectual Property