Guarding The Gates: Protecting A Corporation’s Intangible Assets
There are several steps business owners should take to ensure their intellectual property is protected from others.
Although most businesses in Oregon have tangible property, like equipment and files, many also have intangible property, like trade secrets, proprietary information, account information , ideas, processes and methods. These intangible assets are known as intellectual property, and they are valuable assets that every business should work diligently to protect.
Types of Intellectual Property
The first thing that comes to mind when discussing intellectual property are “patentable” ideas, processes and devices. Intellectual property, however, reaches much further . In Oregon, ORS 646.461 protects “trade secrets” , which are broadly defined as :” information, including a drawing, cost data, customer list, formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique or process that:
(a)Derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to the public or to other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use; and;
(b) Is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy.
What this means, is any information which a company has identified as having value , and has taken steps to ensure its confidentiality, is protected under the statute. Similarly, the name, corporate identity, logo, service marks are all intangible assets which have value and which should be safeguarded. As the company increases in prominence, prestige and success, the number of copycats, and imitators, will increase, bent on sharing in the success. In the woolly world of corporate start-ups, loyalty can be fleeting, and the urge to capitalize on perceived weakness , or opportunity, often drives individuals in the “control group” to look for a better deal with a competitor.
Departing control group members frequently solicit other individuals with specialized contacts or knowledge, to join them in the “new venture”.
Be prepared to protect the information, identity and contacts which are the foundation of the company’s success.
To protect their ideas from their competitors, businesses should file for patents as quickly as possible. Once a patent application is filed, business owners have 12 months following their initial submission to expand on their filing. It is especially important that businesses submit patent applications as quickly as possible because in the U.S., a patent can take up to five years to be issued.
Non -Competes / Trade Secrets
As with patents, filing quickly to prevent dissemination of your corporate information is critical. You should assume whatever information has been appropriated, is currently being used, as you adversary is fully aware the information has a limited life. Whether it is business contacts, pricing information, sales strategies or product production information, it will be used by your adversary as a platform to subvert your business.
Consider the future
Before filing , business owners should carefully consider what the future of their operations looks like. This information should then be used to come up with a patent strategy and to determine which work and information needs to be protected legally.
Analyze all intellectual property
Business owners should remember that patents, trade secrets and confidential information are not their only assets. For this reason, those who own a business should conduct a careful audit to identify all of their unregistered and registered copyrights and trademarks. Additionally, business owners should remember that it is important to patent all of their intellectual property, and not just what is important to them.
Learn intellectual property basics
To ensure they are able to successfully protect their intellectual property, business owners should familiarize themselves with the basics of patent law. Business owners and their key team members should spend time educating themselves on trade secrets, copyrights, patents and trademarks.
Reach out to an attorney
Business owners in Oregon need to be careful about protecting their intellectual property so they can continue to run their operations successfully on a long-term basis. Those who need help solidifying patents, trademarks or other legal protections for their ideas should contact an attorney in their area who can provide expert assistance.