Storing new ideas and inventions: Do you have an adequate system in place?
Intellectual property (IP) is vital to any business and it is therefore critical to seek protection for identified IP. While it can be challenging to identify such assets, doing so can enable you to argue that certain information is ‘confidential’ in order to seek registered IP rights or rely on prior use rights.
Having a suitable storage system for new ideas, inventions, content, and creative output can assist with this, as knowing where all your IP is stored, and keeping track of new IP, can help devise and manage IP protection strategies. For example, if you develop an array of new compounds as part of a chemical or drug screen, you may have thousands of compounds and large quantities of related information that you need to record. Well-planned and documented arrangements of storage boxes for the compounds themselves, as well as corresponding spreadsheets of data, are useful for keeping track of such samples. Including experimental result entries and even IP protection strategies can make this an even more powerful system for managing and tracking such inventions.
No matter what format you choose to store your IP, it is essential that you also consider the basis of the storage system. Keeping everything stored on paper in a locked filing cabinet or on a single hard drive may feel secure in preventing theft, but if something happens to that cabinet or hard drive, your IP may be lost.
It is therefore important to consider having back-up storage devices and systems, either offline (such as multiple hard drives or paper copies), or online (such as cloud-based storage systems). A common tool is a document management system that can automatically log when data is recorded and accessed, offering you more control over all confidential information. This functionality also allows you to assign access to certain users for specific files and projects, meaning you will be alerted if anyone unauthorised is trying to access confidential information they shouldn’t be. It can also be helpful for tracking progress on a project, as well as useful in assessing who made what contributions to a project under joint development.
In addition, anyone responsible for developing new inventions (e.g. researchers) should keep accurate records substantiating their work, such as dates of conception, reduction to practice and disclosure to others (and details of whom the invention was disclosed to). Dating and signing such records can add to this documentary evidence, (either in the form of a paper or electronic laboratory notebook). Such documentation can be used to determine patentability, assist with drafting and prosecuting patent applications, and even help protect against third party challenges.
Invention disclosure forms are also useful, as they are designed to record information relating to the invention, the inventors, important dates, sponsorship information, and other relevant details. These forms can then be used as a business record documenting your rights to the invention, as well as a guide to the invention for those involved in registering these rights, for example patent attorneys drafting and prosecuting a patent application.
You may also wish to have a company policy or strategy to regularly discuss projects and conceive or reveal inventions (‘invention harvesting’ sessions). This is another tactic to help identify and document the IP you may wish to protect. Such meetings can be formal or informal; company-wide, or with select teams / individuals.
In summary, considering processes for identifying IP and your storage solution options is another key element in your IP protection strategy.
Written by: Andrew White and Lindsay Pike