How to Protect Your Intangible Business AssetsPosted: April 19, 2016
When I speak with business owners about their assets, they often refer to their tangible assets such as their office(s), computers, and machinery. However, the value placed on intangible assets, such as people, knowledge, relationships and intellectual property, is now a greater proportion of the total value of most businesses than is the value of tangible assets.
It’s these intangible assets, rather than the tangible ones, that enable a company to distinguish itself from competitors. Your intangible assets might include your customer lists, intellectual property, business plans, recipes, pricing formulas, and trade secrets, and are typically the foundation upon which your company is built. Think about KFC’s intangible asset – the special, secret recipe, without which KFC would just be fried chicken.
To ensure your “secret sauce” does not become that of your competitors, you’ll need to develop a strategy to properly protect your intangible assets. To achieve this, you’ll first need to write a list of your assets and make sure you have back-up (hard drive/cloud) for this list.
Although I recommend sitting down with a corporate lawyer who specializes in intangible asset protection, I’ve outlined below a few very simple things you can do on your own to start protecting your intangibles:
Make sure you have employment agreements for all your staff. These agreements stipulate that all company assets are proprietary and that unauthorized disclosure of confidential information such as pricing formulas, customer lists and other data and information is prohibited. Depending on the type of business and the employee’s role, employee agreements can include clauses to help ensure that any invention or discovery made by an employee while employed with the company is the property of the company.
Even though you own copyrights without filing, you should have your corporate lawyer file for you to fully protect those rights. You can start the process to receive a patent or trademark by submitting an application to the appropriate governmental agency. Be prepared, as the application requires you to provide an explanation of why the asset is proprietary to you.
Confidentiality or nondisclosure agreements, designed to protect your valuable trade secrets, can be very simple or very detailed, depending on the requirement. At a basic level, they commit a party (vendor/freelancer/supplier) to keep specific information confidential, to not share it with potential competitors, or use it for themselves to gain market share.
Your Digital Data Backup
It seems simple, but many businesses owners still store anything important in their head. Make it a priority to back up everything that is important to running your business. Digital documents can be easily backed up to a server that is in a different location or on the cloud. Put a plan into action to backup all your data and get it done.
As a responsible business owner, you’ve done everything you can to build a successful business – now invest that same energy into protecting those very valuable assets.