Protecting IP - technology not the answer

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Intellectual property theft from companies could become more of a problem as technology improves.

Intellectual property theft from companies could become more of a problem as technology improves. However, companies need non-tech-based policies in place to protect themselves, according to experts.

Wayne Condon, a partner at law firm Clayton Utz, said technological advances could enable easier exploitation of intellectual property (IP).

Rather than providing a practical remedy to stop IP theft technological advances in security were always trying to catch up. "I think there's always a lag between technological advances and the security measures that are imposed," Condon said.  

Kevin Fitzgerald, an information security consultant, said it was often a lack of awareness of what was valuable IP that allowed breaches of confidence to occur. "For example, people store huge amounts of intellectual property on work laptops without understanding its value."

Condon said that any company would be well advised to audit its security measures when it came to IP.

Securing confidential information was a multi-tiered approach, Condon said. Companies should initially implement carefully worded agreements with all their employees -- including full timers, consultants and contractors -- "to ensure they all know what they can and can't do in terms of the intellectual property and copyrights of the company."

Fitzgerald agreed, saying if employees understood that certain information shouldn't reside on laptops or be sent via email and in cases of extreme sensitivity, should not be recorded electronically at all, it could go a long way towards preventing leaks.

For trade secrets, such as confidential processes, Condon said companies should limit and control individuals' access to the information but, if there was a breach, court remedies were available. These could be obtained quickly and without notice when companies suspected that evidence might be destroyed to avoid detection.

"These remedies include the so-called Anton Piller orders which are akin to a civil form of search warrant enabling an employer who has established a strong suspicion of wrongdoing to search premises for evidence of breach of confidential information or infringement of copyright," Condon said.

Condon said these orders could compel suspects to reveal passwords and encryption codes for files and programs. It also allowed software analysts to assess programs and hard drives to ascertain if IP was being misused.

When it was suggested that technology should help rather than hinder protection of intellectual property, Gartner research director Steve Bittinger said: "Technology can help in certain situations but it's by no means the big answer."

He said that a large part of a company's competitive differentiation came from its culture, rather than any recorded formulas or processes.

However, when it came to implementing stricter security measures he said Gartner research into using two-factor authentifications had shown: "A lot of organisations probably should be using those but they just can't be bothered. This is because they say 'it costs too much' or 'it slows us down', and they would rather take the risk.

"Technology's important but by no means is it the only issue. A lot of time every new technology introduces its own new problem. Maybe there's umpteen flaws, maybe it backfires on you... our advice is you've got to take it on a case by case basis."

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