Over the years, intellectual property (IP) has become a valuable and irreplaceable asset for enterprise organizations worldwide. However, intellectual property theft has also grown in frequency and sophistication. As cybercrime grows more rife and modern attacks become harder to detect and contain, it’s imperative that enterprise security teams follow recommendations and actionable advice to safeguard their intellectual property, before it falls into the wrong hands. 

As technology and automation become more commonplace in companies around the world, security departments cannot afford to take a lax approach when it comes to protecting their organization’s IP and ensuring its long-term value does not take a hit.

The possible consequences of IP theft 

Any company’s intellectual property is one of its most valuable assets, setting that business apart from the competition and, at times, retaining synonymy with the brand that owns it. Intellectual property is believed to cost the U.S. between $225 billion and $600 billion every year, with each breach costing in the realm of $8.64 million, according to Legal Jobs research.

Should a company's intellectual property fall into the hands of a cybercriminal or hacker, for instance, it can result in any of the following scenarios:

  • The emergence of counterfeit products using your label
  • Companies that represent your brand but are not affiliated in any way
  • Revenue and income losses
  • Surges in consumer good prices
  • Damage to your company’s reputation

Intellectual property data has become highly sought after by cybercriminals in recent years, which is why internal security departments — as well as third-party security specialists — must act decisively and quickly to ensure confidential or sensitive data is not compromised.

What constitutes intellectual property?

Generally speaking, IP refers to a company’s collection of intangible assets that must be legally protected against unauthorized use. IP encompasses any creation — be it physical or conceptual — that has been created by a company or individual, and thus needs to be protected by law. 

Any individual or company with IP ownership has the right to prevent others from using their inventions, often going to lengths such as preventing the manufacturing, distribution or sales of products that infringe on intellectual property rights. This can range from a watermarked website header photo taken on a used camera to a string of mass-produced computers and machinery for commercial use. 

Following the rapid uptake of AI tech that can undermine ownership of content creation, there is an expectation that people and businesses will continue to recognize, regulate and place more value on authentic and personalized authorship. Therefore, it is more important than ever for individuals, businesses and unique brands to personalize imagery to prove that their services, content and products can be trusted.

Security departments are often associated with implementing stringent protective protocols as it pertains to their organization’s infrastructure, networks, systems and data, especially those that are shared with and accessible to external parties. It’s vital that companies that pride themselves on their safety and stability are able to safeguard their own inventions, products, or concepts. Entrusting a security team with this responsibility requires smart and strategic top-level decisions to be made.

Failsafe ways to safeguard intellectual property

Consider the following actions to protect an organization’s IP from being compromised.

Classify the intellectual property

It is essential to first identify and classify the various types of IP the organization possesses. This includes patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets, along with proprietary databases.

By understanding the scope and nature of the intellectual property assets, security leaders can develop tailored protection strategies for each category.

Implement security measures and training

The first vital step in safeguarding the property requires security professionals to secure the sensitive information and digital infrastructure. Ensure that their network is well-protected with strong firewalls, real-time intrusion detection systems, regular security patches and encryption protocols. These can prevent sophisticated cyberattacks like ransomware, phishing or DDoS attacks. 

Patch software to mitigate vulnerabilities and prevent unauthorized access. Furthermore, restrict access controls to authorized employees only, and invest in continuous employee training programs to raise awareness about the importance of IP protection and maintain a culture of security within the organization. Reinforce the importance of confidentiality, data security, and disclosure of information.

Secure contractual agreements

When collaborating with third parties, vendors or clients, it is crucial to have strong contractual agreements in place that clearly define the ownership, use and protection of intellectual property. 

Ensure that these agreements explicitly state the confidentiality obligations and restrictions on the disclosure and reproduction of the IP. Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) can be effective tools in safeguarding your proprietary information.

Monitor and detect IP infringements

As security leaders ‌regularly monitor their networks and systems to identify cyber breaches, they should adopt a similar approach to their marketplace to identify any potential infringements on the IP. 

Security leaders can take advantage of online tools like IP monitoring solutions to keep track of any duplication, plagiarism or unauthorized use of their assets. Consider partnering with a legal firm that can act on the organization’s behalf promptly in the event of an IP infringement.

Keep records of findings

Whether the organization’s assets are copyrighted, trademarked or patented, security leaders should always be aware of the exclusive rights over the assets. In today’s digital age, it’s highly probable that leaks will occur, and they may not be able to prevent one from occasionally slipping through the cracks. However, keeping note of the breakthroughs can date a security leader’s activities in the detection and attempted resolution of IP infringements. Over time, they can refine and improve these strategies to ensure they are as automated and seamless as possible.

By investing in these proactive measures, security leaders can ensure the long-term value and security of intellectual property, while strengthening their position as a trusted leader in the industry.