Award-winning business and technology journalist Bill Magee has interviewed our Head of Transformation & Consulting, Alasdair Hendry, in his latest article for Insider. Bill gains insight from Alasdair on how to protect Intellectual Property, particularly for software. Supporting comments from cyber security specialists and lawyers are in agreement that all businesses, whether software driven or not, need to be proactive to safeguard their crown jewels.

Data Protection laws may have been tightened up but establishing who owns what online can still prove tricky, not to mention costly.

Business critical cross-border transactions that involve an organisation’s intellectual property rights (IPR) are getting more complex, especially when it involves working with multiple third parties. Get it wrong and the outcome can all but bring a company to its knees. At stake are its brand, products and reputation with customers and the wider marketplace.

Digital reach knows no boundaries or barriers. One particular incident has become something of internet folklore: a firm who unwittingly sent over the internet the designs for a new hotel. They later discovered to their horror that it popped up – brick-by-brick — at the other side of the world.

No matter how secure things may appear, it’s the wise company that takes stock before using the internet to send sensitive data or patent detail. Marks & Clerk says the issue of intellectual property rights touch all areas from aeronautics to telecommunications and everything in between. The IPR global specialist’s chartered (UK) and European patent attorney Kate Adamson says: “IP is undoubtedly a major consideration for companies working across such dynamic, fast-moving sectors.

“IP needs are ever-changing and considerations will constantly evolve over the business cycle.

“But one aspect remains the same: it has a crucial role to play in facilitating growth … and is also key to ensuring the efforts put into research and development benefit those who create it”

Latest “knowledge assets” figures from the UK Government reveal a total investment by firms of more than £200bn in patents, designs, trademarks and copyright, representing more than four per cent of Britain’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Alasdair Hendry, IT consultant Exception’s Head of Transformation and Consulting, says business risk can be reduced:

Alasdair Hendry - Head of Transformation & Consulting

“IPR has become more complex with the introduction of agile software 

development and iterative releases.

“Treat your software as a trade secret. Ensure that customer testing agreements include a non-disclosure agreement where possible. Such testing also represents an easy way to understand what your competitors are doing. Also make sure that all software code is controlled, managed and commented on in a copyright statement.”

Professor Bill Buchanan, who heads up the cyber academy at Napier University, defines the vast majority of data leakage as the “accidental or unintentional distribution of private or sensitive data to an unauthorised entity”.

He added: “Direct losses [of such leaks] include violation of regulations, fines, customer compensation, investigation costs, litigation, reduced sales and restoration fees.

“Indirect losses can include share price fall, a company’s reputation, customer loss of faith, IP loss to competitors and brand reputation.”

Buchanan was behind BIL2018 an inaugural conference covering all aspects of digital identity and cryptography, as well as establishing Europe’ first blockchain research laboratory.

IPR ‘bootcamps’ are increasingly springing up to help companies help devise an IP strategy to overcome potential online tripwires.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology is one body that offers a series of such online get togethers to help a firm clearly define and protect their IP by proper registrations and documentation.

MIT’s senior programme manager Andrew Ngui reports they have devised a new learning format to cover different types of IP. “It must be all about helping an organisation achieve its goals and what agreements a company needs in place”

“The institute has developed blended learning programmes to equip learners with a comprehensive IPR toolkit. These enable a company to control the use of its IP rights, including permitted use under licensing together with properly worked out copyright collaborative arrangements.

Closer to home, Scottish Enterprise staged ‘introductory bootcamps’ at Perth and Edinburgh with IPR at its nucleus for companies new to trading internationally. Further bootcamps are planned for Glasgow and Edinburgh in January 2019.

Skills Development Scotland (SDS) maintains that one way to avoid the unwitting exposure of a sensitive file online is to invest more in digital skills covering every member of an organisation.

SDS has created a simplified online digital guide. Its sector manager for digital technologies Claire Gillespie says four- fifths of businesses find it difficult to recruit people with the right skills and experience.

There are almost 13,000 tech job vacancies in Scotland every year, Gillespie says, but in a decade 90 per cent of all jobs will require some sort of digital knowledge.

“Many people talk about a digital future as part of ‘Industry 4.0’ but the reality is that future is already here,’ she says. “Businesses regularly tell us that although support was welcome and comprehensive it was also complex and confusing”

Alan Middleton, boss of the IT services provider Capito, suggests a solution like Pure Storage. “Check out one that provides data-centric architecture solutions keeping applications in place.

“Crucially with technology built safely around them. Best to go for an all-flash solution that’s flexible, easy-to-use and resilient.

“Failure to do so can lead to ineffective management of an organisation’s data, resulting in poor business performance, customer loss and reputational damage?”

Gordon Stark of IP attorneys Murgitroyd urges organisations to devote time to be clear on strategy around intellectual assets they hold. “Otherwise you are putting thefuture success of your business into the hands of your competitors,” he warns.

Stark, the patent and trade mark specialist’s chief operating officer, adds: “When protecting IP, often decisions and costs can be deferred but in some cases they can’t and once the window to protect that IP is closed it cannot be reopened.

“Being proactive in managing your IP can not only add significant value to your business, it can underpin your differentiation in the marketplace.

“Choosing to ignore IP can lead to significant expense such as a rebranding, product withdrawal or redesign, or costly and time-consuming court litigation”

Willis Towers Watson, the risk management brokerage and advisor, points out that IP litigation costs are on the rise.

The company’s IP leader Kim Cauthorn says it’s due to “a growing use of trade secrets to protect innovation and an increase in technology-related mergers and acquisitions.

“Also a greater IP mobility and the evolution of traditional sectors into hybrid techwork like insuretech and fintech”

Cauthorn concludes: “It’s clear that while many companies appreciate IP’s value, they have not yet extended this to IP risk management.

By Bill Magee

You can download the latest issue of Insider here or visit their website for more of Bill’s work.

If you have any questions with regards to protecting your IP, particularly when designing digital products, get in touch with us today. Our expert consultants have a wealth of experience protecting software through development and beyond.

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