Fail to instil IP literacy in staff at all levels (no. 36 in our list of IP mistakes)

“We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.” Peter Drucker

Swift growth in global trade, a rapid pace of change in IP laws worldwide and their international ramifications, and the recognition by governments, company executives and shareholders of the potential value of IP assets, have made IP literacy indispensible in the present world of cutting edge technology.

Some of the very common IP issues arise from inadequate knowledge of basic IP concepts and value: insufficient (or no) protection of IP; developing, procuring or selling infringing products or services; relying on only one type of IP; not securing rights from contracted entities; handshake agreements on IP ownership; defective confidential document handling; loss of important data; losing value of trademark through inappropriate use; failure to mark goods (TM, copyright, patents, registered designs); leakage and misappropriation of trade secrets; accidental disclosures; creating prior art for one’s own invention; and lack of surveillance of third party activities (for freedom to operate or infringing third party use of one’s IP).

IP knowledge should no longer be confined to the closed walls of a company’s IP group. Rather, it needs to be disseminated across organizations, including those handling products and services that should be or are covered by IP or that may be affected by others’ IP. For example imagine what would happen if an employee accidently discloses crucial IP information while updating his/her status on social networking sites. Without providing employees with a basic understanding of IP principles, how can an injudicious disclosure of this kind otherwise be controlled? IP knowledge has to infiltrate all levels of the organization. Unless we value IP literacy and have concrete programs in place to provide IP literacy, we cannot create sufficient awareness and avoid mistakes.

Some of the ways to cultivate IP literacy are as follows:

Training

A first step is to establish the IP literacy requirements for the workforce. Categorize staff according to their requirements and arrange different training workshops for individuals or like groups. For example, staff responsible for handling a company website should know about copyright notices, privacy statements, how to treat user data, how to avoid incorporation of matter than can possibly infringe others’ IP, and how to avoid disclosure of proprietary, confidential or otherwise sensitive company or employee information. For this purpose, a website checklist can be prepared and followed.

Also, consider creating an IP literacy guide or manual providing information and examples on how to properly handle IP and the risks that need to be managed.

A training compliance protocol should also ideally be implemented. Some companies have developed regular (at least annual) live training sessions or webinars with sign in/out sheets. Failure to attend IP training at requisite intervals in such companies can impact year-end performance reviews and bonus amounts.

System

Creating and maintaining effective IP compliant systems and procedures are also important in mitigating risks and can develop IP literacy. The systems may include filing confidential documents in a segregated area and/or on a server with limited access privileges. Categorizing data and information based upon its sensitivity and creating different access levels can lead to a users’ increased awareness of sensitive issues and documentation, thereby elevating his/her IP literacy.

Most organizations have instituted systems and standard procedures, such as access control, limits on the size of emails, firewalls including barring to access to personal emails, and fraud detection solutions.

Team structure

Creating IP teams at business unit levels and including IP representatives in cross-functional project teams, is helpful. This is especially important for key groups having regular contact with IP matters in an organization, such as R&D or business development departments. An IP team supporting a particular business unit can play a role in ensuring business goals are aligned with IP goals and strategy. Additionally, IP forums can be instituted to field IP-related general queries. Having an IP specialists positioned within cross-function project teams and in business units helps spread IP awareness within the company and increases the understanding and capacity of team members to think and act strategically around managing this IP assets.

Core values and culture

Organizations should have core values that discourage infringing the IP of others, and promote the acquisition, preservation and appropriate use of IP. Implementing innovation reward systems and utilizing brainstorming sessions, can stimulate the growth of a culture that values and respects innovation and the IP that protects it. Supportive organizational structures to identify IP training needs, implement customized training programs and encourage attendance via transparent appraisal systems can also be extremely helpful.

To summarize, IP literacy is essential in most industries. Never discourage or neglect IP literacy. The potential damage to your business and reputation can be immense.

(This is number 36 in our list of IP mistakes and how to avoid them.)

Image credit: Tim Green aka atoach

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