Protecting Intellectual Property in the workplace. How do you stop employees from stealing your IP?


Happy February!

We hope you have set your dream team and started to make big moves for this year. Your goals should be written down by now, and clear action plans in place for the year.

If you haven’t done this yet, don’t worry – you are not alone! Need some help? The very first module of The 90 Day Culture Accelerator will give you a comprehensive, step by step guide to set you up for the year.

This month we will be looking at Cyber Security within your business. With the evolution of technology and the majority of businesses running parts of, if not their WHOLE business online, it’s important to take the right steps to prevent issues arising.

This week we will cover the issue of Intellectual Property. This is anything that your company or its employees produce in ideas, new innovations, strategies or processes.

A common issue I have seen with businesses we work with is ex-employees taking Intellectual Property, databases or other material from the business, or claiming ownership of particular works they may have produced under the time they’ve been employed with you.

Although a robust contractual agreement can be put in place to legally protect you from this occurring, there are a few things you can do to further protect yourself from IP theft in a digital space.

1. Control access to critical IP

It may sound obvious, but limiting the number of your staff that has access to intellectual property is the first step in keeping vital business information safe.

For example, if your business has various departments, the staff in each department should only have access to the confidential property that is essential to the department.

But regardless if you have 2 employees or 2,000, keeping restrictions on Intellectual property, such as passwords or physical locks, can save you and your business.

2. Correctly label IP – both physically and digitally

To keep a company in proximity with legal protection, labeling confidential IP as such is critical. Digital and hard copy IP can be labeled and a simple statement reading “Confidential information and property of [your business name]. No part of these materials may be copied, used or disclosed except with written permission of [your business name]” can not only make it clear for staff that use of materials is not tolerated, it can also provide evidence for legal purposes.

3. Non-disclosure clauses & confidentiality standards

Make sure your company has clear communication around what the standard is around disclosure and confidentiality.

Train your staff in this aspect, as sometimes a simple ignorance over deception can occur – and is often more likely.

Be clear in communicating what data, information or documents are sensitive in nature, and what can and can’t be communicated.

Also include this explicitly in your employment contracts, as well as regularly communicating it, or pulling staff up immediately if they breach any of these.

4. Return of property at the end of a term of employment

When an employee leaves your company, whether through retirement, termination or exiting, ensure they understand the confidentiality requirements that may still continue even after their contract ends.

When someone leaves, be sure to secure the return of any IP before the staff member leaves.

From a digital perspective, have a process in place where passwords are changed, or access has been discontinued.

5. Protect yourself from external team members, clients or visitors

If your company involves contractors or visitors, consider requiring them to sign a confidentiality agreement before entering a situation in which they may encounter IP.

This can also include your clients. Confidentiality and sharing of IP is also a two-way street. When working with a client, honour their confidentiality and communicate that anything discussed, shared or developed does not leave the room, unless otherwise expressed permission.


If you want more guidance on protecting yourself, Bespoke HR offers a range of solutions for small businesses. To book your FREE consultation, either via phone or in person, click here to book a time.