Protecting competence is an extremely important part of business operations for companies that provide physical products and services. Companies must devise their business strategies in such a way that keeps their competitors from utilising their ideas, inventions, hit products, unique service models or expertise. Various means are available that can be used to both together and individually protect competence.
What should be protected?
If questions regarding the protection of competence are not familiar to the company, it should first find out what kind of competence it has that would be worth protecting. The competence capital of a company includes not only the competence and expertise of its personnel but also various internal and external procedures (for example, processes, materials, data systems, distribution channels) and interest group relationships.
The simplest way of approaching the issue of protection is to consider what intellectual property, if copied or lost, would damage or harm the company. The company should then find the right methods to protect this property.
The methods of protecting competence
In addition to utilising intellectual property rights (IPR), competence can be protected with a variety of contractual and non-formal protection methods.
Similarly to intellectual property rights, the contractual protection methods (for example, prohibition of competition, confidentiality, recruitment prohibition) are non-appealable and used typically to define the relationships of a company’s competence capital to its employees and partners in terms of various rights.
The non-formal protection methods form an extensive range of flexible means by which to protect a company’s expertise. They can also be developed according to the needs and situation of the company. Typically, the non-formal protection methods can be used to prevent information loss or keep unauthorised persons from accessing key information within the company or through its external networks.
The non-formal protection methods can be used simultaneously with protection methods that are based on legislation. The methods do not compete, they complement each other. Some of the non-formal protection methods are linked to more formal methods, such as contracts or even judicial rights. However, the majority of the non-formal protection methods consists of the day-to-day operating methods of the company. Most of the methods do not provide legal protection.
Examples of non-formal protection methods and their effects:
Confidentiality: prevents the disclosure of confidential information to outsiders
Restrictions related to the use of information: limits the access of personnel and outsiders to key information
Commitments made by the personnel: prevents the loss of information tied to employees
Circulating tasks: reduces the company’s dependence on key employees
Documentation: increases the efficiency of the business operations and prevents the loss of information tied to employees
Technical protection: makes copying slower and more difficult
Taking care of customer relationships: prevents information leaks
Look after your rights!
Once the protection of intellectual property is in order, the company’s rights can, and should be, actively monitored and enforced.
Depending on the case, the company can also employ the services of authorities (such as the police or customs). However, getting assistance requires that the rights (for example, trademark) have been protected properly. The company must also demand the defence of its rights on its own initiative.
Expertise to support companies with the protection of intellectual property rights is available from patent agents and experts in the private sector.