How can I protect my business from intellectual property theft?

The first step in protecting your business from intellectual property (IP) theft is to protect your IP - both in the United States and in other countries where you do business and source products. Most IP rights are territorial, meaning, for example, a U.S. patent or trademark only provides protection in the United States. To be able to enforce your IP rights in other countries, you need to secure protection of that IP in those countries – often through registration.

Companies should inventory their IP. Examine your business to see what might be eligible for a patent, trademark, copyright or trade secret status.  The Online IPR Module (Section 2) has a useful tool to help you do this.

Once it is known what IP a company possesses, you can review your options for protecting that property, at home and abroad. Research whether foreign export markets or sourcing locations have signed patent or trademark agreements with the United States. Find out if companies similar to yours have experienced IP problems abroad. Do your contracts with suppliers and other partners include specific IP clauses protecting your rights? Do you know your foreign business partners well?

Finally, do a cost/benefit analysis to determine which IP protection measures make sense for your business.