How can an employer protect its intellectual property?

Author: Julie H. Cox

Information, such as trade secrets, copyrights and patents, must be protected from both competitors and employees who could use the information for their personal benefit. Protection of trade secrets includes identifying what qualifies as a trade secret, how this type of information is stored and who has access to the information.

An employer also needs to consider how policies about confidential business information are communicated to employees and the legal repercussions for employees' misuse of the information. Prosecution may be a consequence.

An employer should register trademarks, such as symbols or logos associated with the employer, with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and assign the ™ symbol. Copyrights, which protect written or artistic materials, are protected by law, but may receive greater strength through being registered with the federal government. Patents on items an employer has created protect the employer from having others copy and sell the same product - often for a greater profit.

The employer's intellectual property and policies regarding it must be discussed with employees in the initial hiring process. Agreements about the property should be signed upon hiring. Depending upon the employer's business and the employee's position, agreements may need to be reviewed upon the employee's termination or departure to prevent unlawful activity and personal gain.