How Do Global Teams Protect Their Intellectual Property?
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When we think about protecting your company’s work, we talk about intellectual property. In contrast to physical goods like inventory, intellectual property refers to intangible assets. In other words, it’s the "creations of the mind"—useful non-physical creations from members of your team. Intellectual property comes in many forms, and you’ll find different examples from industry to industry.
Intellectual property generally fits into one of four categories:
- Patents: a new invention. There are different forms of patents, with the most common being the utility patent (protecting a function) and the design patent (protecting a visual design or look)
- Trademarks: phrases and symbols that distinguish a brand. Similarly, service marks distinguish a service.
- Copyrights: protections for the exclusive right of using and distributing original work.
- Trade secrets: confidential information that gives you a competitive advantage
IP is crucial in all industries, but tech and manufacturing companies in particular tend to have substantial assets that need to be protected.
Intellectual property protection involves the following objectives:
- You need to ensure new IP is properly assigned to the company so you have proper ownership and control
- You need to obtain legal protection for your IP so you have recourse if it is stolen
- You need to secure access to IP so competitors cannot benefit from them
How to assign new intellectual property
For a company to claim ownership of new IP created by an employee, generally a written agreement must have been in place. The agreement should assign ownership of all inventions created by the employee over the course of the employment to the employer. Otherwise, in many countries, the ownership automatically defaults to the inventor (in other words, the employee).
For contractors, a similar assignment of ownership agreement should be in place, where the work to be carried out by the contractor is explicitly described and the resulting IP appropriately transferred to the company. If the ownership agreement is too broad, this may be viewed as an indication of a direct relationship, resulting in misclassification of an independent contractor and additional legal risks.
How to protect existing intellectual property
Register patents, copyrights, and trademarks
File early and proactively. Defending a copyright infringement becomes much more difficult if an application was not submitted. Trademarks and patents can be filed in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
In the majority of countries (including the US), copyright protection is automatically granted as soon a work is created, so registration is not mandatory. Still, you can register your copyright for easier documentation of ownership. In the US, copyrights are filed in the U.S. Copyright Office.
These offices provide federal protection, so further applications will need to be filed with the respective intellectual property offices in each country.
Internationally, member countries of the World Trade Organization follow the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS agreement), which provides baseline protections for intellectual property rights. For patents, international protection can be filed under one of two paths: the Paris Convention or the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). The PCT is managed by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a United Nations agency. The patent application filing deadlines vary between the two paths, so the suitable one for you will depend on your international patent strategy.
Protect trade secrets with NDAs from employees, contractors, and partners
For all other work that cannot be publicly secured under patent law or copyright law, use a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). NDAs are legal agreements that outline the material, knowledge, or information that should be confidential. An NDA provides legal protection if proprietary information is improperly shared.
NDAs may also be known as a confidentiality agreement (CA) or proprietary information agreement (PIA).
How to secure access to intellectual property
Revise or create policies that incorporate remote work
Take into account remote working conditions and ensure workers are taking proper precautions in a work-from-home environment. Consider updating policies about how company data should be accessed and shared and how company devices should be secured.
Establish security audit protocols
- Implement periodic audits of security processes and permissions
- Regularly provide cybersecurity training to team members to establish a culture of cyber awareness
- Ensure devices and programs are up-to-date and revoke permissions for outdated apps or unused software to close security holes.
These steps may sound obvious, but critically analyze company policies and see how often these audits are actually being conducted and applied.
Get a NDA Template
Building out a NDA agreement? Get our free template that we've annotated with notes tailored for remote and international teams.
How Deel can protect your intellectual property when hiring global teams
When you hire internationally through Deel, you can take advantage of our employer of record solution, which provides integrated management and contracting services with locally-owned entities. Part of Deel’s model includes tailored contracts that seamlessly transfer IP ownership to you. These contracts are custom-crafted and regularly reviewed for end-to-end compliance with local regulations and full protection.
Similarly, hiring independent contractors through Deel comes with built-in IP clauses that assign all contractor-created work to the company. Full compliance and contract auditing come standard, providing complete control of your team's IP rights. You can generate and store standard confidentiality agreements for free as part of Deel's comprehensive contractor compliance and onboarding features.
Successfully securing your IP and invention rights will empower your team to scale globally with confidence. See how Deel manages international contracts and compliance and schedule a demo to see Deel in action.
Disclaimer: This article is provided for informational purposes and should not be considered legal advice. Consult a legal professional for information on intellectual property law.