Confidential information leaving with employees

A recent study published by the Ponemon Institute has highlighted the growing problem of employees both deliberately and unwittingly taking corporate intellectual property without permission.

Employees are putting their company’s intellectual property at risk by moving the intellectual property outside the company through the increasing use of personal electronic devices in the workplace.

Key findings

The study has found that smart phones, tablet, laptops, and desktop computers among other devices, are being used by employees to do things such as email business documents to personal accounts, download business documents to personal smartphones or tablets, and file share using public apps such as Dropbox or Google Docs.

As a result, when employees change jobs, the business documents they have downloaded to their personal electronic devices will move with them.

These actions are often being done without the knowledge or permission of the employer, and are not always done innocently.

For example, it was found that of more than 50% of business employees who were found to have taken business information from their employees, 40% said they would use the information in new jobs.

The study found that the majority of employees were not aware that they were doing anything wrong by freely sharing information across multiple forms of media. In general, they do not recognise that by transferring key intellectual property into the hands of competitors, they were placing themselves, their former employer and their new employer at risk.

Many employees considered it acceptable to take corporate data as long as they felt it wasn’t harming the company, the employee wasn’t receiving economic gain, or if the information was considered generally available and unsecured.

Of particular importance, employees also thought it was okay if their company wasn’t enforcing workplace policies on the protection of intellectual property.

It was also found that a lack of understanding of intellectual property theft led to many of the breaches by employees. For example, 42% of employees in the study wrongly attributed ownership of intellectual property to the person who created it, and not to the company.

What employers can do

These findings emphasise the importance of creating and enforcing intellectual property protections that adequately cover emerging technologies and practices in the workplace.

In particular, companies should:

· review existing employment agreements and incorporate non-disclosure agreements which use specific language regarding company intellectual property;

· implement a data protection policy that monitors access and use of intellectual property and can notify employees of violations;

· educate employees on intellectual property theft.

If you would like further information or advice in relation to workplace policies for intellectual property protection, please contact Certus Legal Group.