Your company’s employee handbook is one of the most important assets surrounding the protection of your intellectual property, primarily because trade secrets are especially vulnerable to employee theft. Because employee theft of intellectual property is costly and sometimes even catastrophic to companies, it is vital that businesses have a plan in place for insider threats.
An employee handbook is especially important because it gives you some leverage to protect your intellectual property, whether that includes an idea in the working stages, patents, trademarks, a client list, or some other type of intellectual property including trade secrets, which are ultimately your company’s most valuable assets. Your employee handbook is a vital way to impress upon employees how they should handle the confidential information that is part of their work and can accompany a non-disclosure agreement, which is a legally binding way to add an extra layer of protection to keep trade secrets under wraps.
What should your employee handbook include?
The policies included in your handbook should convey your company’s stance on intellectual property and address how your employees should handle confidential information.
It should include the following:
- What constitutes intellectual property. The handbook should include what falls under the category of intellectual property – including confidential information, patents, trade secret technology, trademarks, and copyrighted works.
- The importance of intellectual property protection. Because companies invest significant money and manpower on intellectual property, it is important for employees to understand that a failure to protect that property results in others benefiting from something in which they made no investments, while diluting the company’s competitive advantage.
- Company ethics regarding intellectual property. In addition to protecting the intellectual property of your own company, your employee handbook should make clear that the ethical standards of your business also include the intellectual property rights of competitors as well as any business partners or suppliers involved in transforming an idea into a marketable product or service.
- In some cases, a non-compete. For some key employees, a non-compete (an agreement that limits an employee’s ability to work in the same industry for a period of time after leaving the company) can protect confidential information by preventing those employees from sharing your company secrets with a new employer.
- Work for hire provisions. In some cases, an employee may contribute work he or she began before being hired by a company, then expand upon it while under company employment. At that point, the company becomes owner of the work and its copyright unless some other agreement was made between the two parties. This provision prevents the employee from later staking a claim to the work.
- Information on intellectual property laws. There are laws protecting intellectual property at the federal, state and local levels. Trade secrets – which when misappropriated are held at the same importance as intellectual property, trademarks, and copyrights – are offered the same federal recourse for the theft of intellectual property.
Contact an experienced IP attorney
For assistance compiling an employee handbook that protects your company’s intellectual property, an experienced legal team can help provide legal protection for your company’s most important assets. Please contact EmergeCounsel today at 888-EMERGE-0.