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Don’t Make These Mistakes In Protecting Your Intellectual Property: An Expert Explains

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Coca-Cola is one of the more recognizable brands in the world. People consume its drinks, and its logo and branding percolate across television, print and billboards. The company has become ubiquitous in our culture because of the product it offers — many people say they’re “drinking a Coke” in lieu of saying “soda” or “pop.”

If you’ve ever wondered how Coca-Cola has been able to gain this market share, it primarily boils down to one thing: trade secrets. Coca-Cola’s secret formulas are the largest and most mysterious part of its lore. Were the trade secret to enter into the public domain, the potential damages suffered by Coca-Cola may be devastating.

But Coca-Cola isn’t the only company with closely guarded trade secrets, nor is it the only one to possess valuable intellectual property. Protecting this intellectual property — and taking the proper measures if it’s stolen, infringed upon or misappropriated —  should always be a top priority for a company. To accomplish this, companies may want to seek expert advice.

Citrin Cooperman, which offers forensic accounting and damages measurement services, provides expert guidance in intellectual property disputes. That guidance can include exploration of where a company went wrong in trying to protect its intellectual property, what the company can do to protect it going forward, and what future course of action they can take if and when their intellectual property is infringed upon.

“Over the past ten years, even more so the last five years, intellectual property has become an increasingly valuable asset of a company,” says Joe Lesovitz, CPA/ABV/CFF, CFA, CFE, a Partner at Citrin Cooperman providing forensic accounting services for companies as well as assistance measuring and testifying to economic damages in litigation. “IP provides significant value and companies need someone with the expertise in both intellectual property and valuation to provide an economic analysis of its true value.”

Courtesy of Citrin Cooperman

These are the services Citrin Cooperman and Lesovitz provide. Forensic accounting and economic damages measurements is Lesovitz’s specialty. Working in the litigation space, Lesovitz offers consulting services for companies who believe their intellectual property has been infringed upon or stolen, as well as those who have been accused of misappropriation of IP.

Oftentimes, this infringement or misappropriation can happen because a company hasn’t taken the proper steps to protect its intellectual property — or isn’t aware of the steps they can take during IP development or enforcement.

Here are some tips and tricks for companies looking to ensure they stay organized in managing, protecting and maintaining the value of their intellectual property — and the steps to take in disputes that arise surrounding it:

Educate the Whole Company

Employees should know their responsibilities and be aware of the resources available to do their jobs effectively. The same applies in understanding the makeup of their business. Staying on top of what makes your company unique in relation to its intellectual property – trade secrets, trademarks, and patents to name a few – allows you to be proactive should any of these assets be infringed upon.

“From a best practice standpoint, it’s about getting employees to realize how important the IP is to a company’s process of providing goods and services, how valuable the intellectual property is to this process, and intellectual property is meant to be confidential to a company,” Lesovitz says. “If there’s a misappropriation of the IP, there’s going to be significant repercussions including financial consequences.”

Lesovitz adds that working in conjunction with lawyers can be a helpful tool in installing “checks and balances” to ensure that intellectual property is effectively protected. Utilizing these professional services resources helps the company and its employees to be vigilant and knowledgeable about their course of action if they feel a malicious act has occurred.

Establish Open Communication

If and when intellectual property is infringed upon or misappropriated, a company needs to have a unified message. Communication on the best course of action should be uniform at every level of the company.

That means that management and employees should have a strategy and ensure that their messaging is consistent. Generating input from each facet of your company’s departments — especially its business divisions — is an important part of this process.

“The internal business professionals understand how they developed the intellectual property and how it’s being used in their particular company,” Lesovitz says. “I utilize that knowledge and knowhow and consider the impact, where appropriate, in the analysis of each specific situation.”

Know Your Company Inside and Out 

Regardless of whether you feel your intellectual property has been misused or you find yourself being accused of misuse, it’s important to understand where your strengths of defense or challenges lie.

For example, someone who works in research and development of the IP may not understand the business implications of infringement or misappropriation of the asset the way your Chief Financial Officer might. Having the right people involved in understanding the financial implications of the infringement, misappropriation or defense against such allows for a detailed and meticulous strategy should you find yourself in litigation that can often last several years.

“There are different components in both the business and legal process and all those components are relied on by damages professionals to do a complete, accurate analysis of the potential damages,” Lesovitz says. “All of those pieces of the puzzle fill in the blanks to understand the whole story. On the defendant’s side, the facts and circumstances help to show that the allegedly misappropriated intellectual property may not have the value that is being claimed by the owner of the intellectual property.”