Mark Edge takes a look at effective IP protection in an increasingly collaborative world
Intellectual property is one of the most valuable commodities any company can own. In a sign of just how significant IP is to the European economy as a whole, a recent report estimated 39 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the European Union is generated by industries focused on intellectual property1. The manufacturing industry is of course no exception to this. Manufacturing companies need to protect trade secrets that do not always benefit from legal protection in the same way as intellectual property.
As a result, the vast majority of these valuable assets are usually kept under lock and key within the confines of most manufacturing organisations. Rightly so, as any leaks can be highly damaging. Key business plans and development work could be compromised and future plans, roadmaps and acquisitions could be sabotaged if rivals hear about them in advance. But in the manufacturing industry, these assets cannot be kept locked away forever. Manufacturing involves intensive communications with a wide variety of existing and potential partners. In doing so, it exposes this information to theft and perhaps unsurprisingly there’s no shortage of people out there trying to take what isn’t theirs. According to a survey by the European Commission, one in five companies has been a victim of attempted trade secret theft at least once in the previous ten years2.
Securing communications channels
But how does this sensitive information end up in the wrong hands? One of the easiest ways is through intercepted or misplaced communications. Furthermore, in the infinitely connected modern business environment, once out, sensitive information can be nigh on impossible to get back. But when communication plays such a pivotal role in so many aspects of business, potential vulnerabilities are not always easy to identify and mitigate. For instance, manufacturing sales teams rely on daily communications with a wide variety of external stakeholders in order to ‘Out-License’ their services successfully, and are often required to share sensitive details to secure deals. Equally, external communication/collaboration is an important part of the manufacturing process, but this also needs monitoring to closely safeguard processes and patent-related knowledge. In addition, co-operation with external companies in the manufacturing process can also prove risky, as it regularly requires the divulging of a wide variety of confidential business information and production processes.
The list does not end there either. There are plenty of other instances where third parties might be given access to a manufacturing company’s internal information. Certification bodies and other businesses within the supply chain could have access to internal processes, assessment reports and safety information, while service reports and information about claims or damage need to be handled in a discreet manner too.
Collaboration must be secure with all parties involved
Legal protections for intellectual property must be underpinned with technical measures in order to effectively protect the information flow that is vital to many businesses.
But how can effective collaboration be achieved without compromising IP security? One way is to adopt a secure collaboration platform that is both intuitive to use and that supports every day operations, so it is perceived as a help rather than a hindrance. These platforms also feature user interfaces that can be tailored to the needs of the organisation and its collaborators, and feature remote access to accommodate the increasingly mobile working habits of employees at all levels. Below are some of the key features manufacturing organisations should look for in a secure collaboration platform:
Completely secure data storage and transmission: Secure data transmission and storage is paramount, and all sensitive IP should be securely protected by cryptographic means. Furthermore, adopting strong authentication measures also goes a long way to ensuring only authorised users have access to documents and importantly, that their access is removed once they no longer require it.
Encryption should also be used as standard to prevent unauthorised individuals from snooping on communications and illegally obtaining or manipulating information. Confidential information should also be protected from access by technical staff, such as internal system administrators.
Tailored user rights per individual user: It should also be possible to customise what actions any user can do with a specific document through the collaboration platform. For instance, the document could be in read-only mode with no permission to save, print or forward it. Activities taking place on the platform should be logged in a tamperproof audit trail, enabling traceable, transparent insight into how documents are used and edited. As a result, the organisation can monitor how intensively particular documents have been used/accessed.
Fully customisable data protection rules: Data protection rules should be integrated into the system so data is only available for a specific purpose, to certain people and for a defined period of time. Security features should be up-to-date and based on the latest technologies with the system complying with current and recognised standards of data protection and security.
In today’s manufacturing industry, many organisations need to collaborate with a wide range of third parties to conduct their business, but they also need to protect their intellectual property and trade secrets to preserve their competitive edge. Thankfully, there is a wide range of tools available that allow for effective collaboration, but also ensure security and accountability for the organisation’s most sensitive IP.
Mark Edge is UK Country Manager at Brainloop. Founded in 2000, Brainloop is a market-leading provider of highly intuitive collaboration solutions for managing confidential information and sharing files internally and externally. Customers solve a variety of business problems with Brainloop including board communications, M&A, real estate portfolio management, out-licensing, out-sourced manufacturing and supply chain management, secure collaboration and enterprise file share and sync.
1 “Intellectual property rights intensive Industries: Contribution to economic performance and employment in Europe” (September 2013), joint study by the European Patent Office and the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM), http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/intellectual-property/docs/joint-report-epo-ohim-final-version_en.pdf
2 Study on Trade Secrets and Confidential Business Information in the Internal Market, Final Study, April 2013, http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/iprenforcement/docs/trade-secrets/130711_final-study_en.pdf