How can I protect my intellectual property at work?

The following are practical steps you could take to help protect your intellectual property.

Practical stepDescription
Implement a 'need to know' policy.

Not all employees need to know all your confidential information in order to do their job. Some employees might need to know some types of information (e.g. financial information) but not other types of information (e.g. patentable inventions).

Consider confining access to information only to those employees who need to know the information to be able to do their job. It is unnecessary for anyone else to know that confidential information.

Keep your IP secure.

Keep your intellectual property and confidential information in secure locations, in a secure manner.

Should some things be confined to a certain area such as a lab or other working area?

Restrict access to your business premises.

Restrict access to premises so that only employees who need access to a specific location are able to enter that location.

This applies not just to employees, but to visitors to your premises as well.

Restrict computer access.In the same way that access to premises may be restricted, similarly restrict access to parts of your computer systems so that only those employees who need to access certain types of information are able to do so, to the exclusion of others.
Have an employment commencement protocol.

Consider having an employment commencement protocol as part of an employee's induction.

It may not be enough to simply have employees sign an employment agreement.

An employee may sign it without appreciating the effect of its 6 essential terms.

An employee may assert that certain intellectual property disclosed during the employment relationship was created by the employee before the employment relationship commenced.

An employment commencement protocol serves these important purposes:

  • It is an opportunity for an employee to identify any intellectual property that the employee claims was developed by the employee before the employment relationship commenced. Anything identified is recorded in writing (e.g. in the employment contract), avoiding later disputes.
  • It is an opportunity to explain the 6 essential terms to the employee, and to communicate to the employee the importance that the employer places on those 6 terms.
Have an employment exit protocol.

Consider having an employment exit protocol.

It may have been years since the employee underwent the employment commencement protocol.

The exit protocol is an opportunity to interview the employee about:

  • having returned to the employer all of the employer's property (including electronic computer files)
  • not having copies of electronic computer files
  • the employee's continuing obligations under the 6 essential terms in the employment contract, and in doing so, communicating to the employee the importance that the employer places on the continuing binding effect of those 6 terms.