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The Call is Coming from Inside the House: The Threat Against Intellectual Property

Often, discussions on stolen IP – and lawsuits – centre around competing businesses who aim to profit from a successful idea. Yet the biggest danger of loss can actually come from those inside the organization.

Nearly 6 out of 10 departing employees grab confidential data on their way out.
Nearly 6 out of 10 departing employees grab confidential data on their way out.

One of the biggest risks for innovative companies has always been the theft of intellectual property. Designs, inventions and concepts are the backbone of any lucrative venture. Often, discussions on stolen IP – and lawsuits – center around competing businesses who aim to profit from a successful idea. Yet the biggest danger of loss can actually come from those inside the organization. This is a surprising fact to many, as internal staff are unlikely to be perceived as a threat. However, nearly 6 out of 10 departing employees grab confidential data on their way out.

At the start of 2019 a worker from a tech giant was charged by the FBI after taking hundreds of photos of a confidential work project and copying the contents of his office computer. He faces up to 10 years in prison along with a hefty fine. Unfortunately, the news came just a few months after another employee from the company was arrested for a similar crime.

Why is this infringement so prevalent? The trouble stems from the reality that many professionals don’t see the act as a real crime. One study revealed that employees who take valuable data after quitting feel their companies do little to prevent or punish such acts. Alarmingly, most actively plan to use this confidential information in their new role.

Some experts site the dwindling notion of company loyalty as the reason behind the rise of this crime. If individuals easily move among competitors every few years, they’re unlikely to feel remorse for any theft. Yet it’s undeniable that these actions have steep financial consequences. IP loss costs businesses nearly $600 billion every year in the U.S.

Thankfully, there are steps that employers can take to curb this action. Individual limits on access can be placed on employees, depending on their specific responsibility. AI and other technology is increasingly being used to monitor computer activity and flag any suspicious activity. Higher-level executives can be made to sign noncompete agreements to prevent them from repeating their successful projects with a competitor. Perhaps most importantly, filing proper copyrights, trademarks and patents is the best legal defence for a stolen idea.