How to Protect IP in Today’s Big Data World

October 30, 2019

Companies rely on big data and big analytics to improve and develop their products and services as well as boost their profits. 

“Today, big data has become capital,” notes tech giant Oracle Corp. in an online white paper on big data. “Think of some of the world’s biggest tech companies. A large part of the value they offer comes from their data, which they’re constantly analyzing to produce more efficiency and develop new products.” 

Unfortunately, big data also brings risks and complexities in terms of protecting intellectual property – arguably a company’s most precious possession. 

“As any reputable trademark attorney or trademark lawyer will doubtlessly confirm, the legal framework that protects IP wasn’t exactly designed for the modern digital era,” wrote big data expert Sean Mallon in a 2016 article on SmartData Collective. “For instance, companies can’t copyright or patent most data. The vast majority generally have to rely on protection mechanisms such as trade secrets to keep information safe.” 

So, how can companies guard their intellectual property and intangible assets in today’s big data environment? 

The first step is to hire a professional to assess or reassess your company’s intellectual property protections and risks and institute a set of policies to avoid both the loss of intangible assets and infringement on other businesses’ intellectual property, according to Mallon. 

IP infringements often occur in the early stages of development during big data analysis when a company’s piece of business intelligence may still lack a trademark or patent, wrote Naveen Joshi in a 2018 blog post for Allerin, an international software solutions provider

One way that companies can endanger their intellectual property is during the development of business intelligence dashboards and other tools using proprietary third-party software that is already copyrighted, Mallon noted. The licensing terms in this open-source software usually prohibits companies from copyrighting derivative works created with the software. An application for a copyright is more likely to be denied or invalidated in these cases. 

Companies can avoid this pitfall by adding internal controls to their policies that dictate how employees use data-gathering and analysis apps and tools, thereby reducing the possibility of intellectual property losses, Mallon wrote. 

By 2020, there will be about 40 trillion gigabytes of data, according to market intelligence provider International Data Corp.’s “The Digital Universe in 2020” report. More simply put, it would take about 181 million years to download all the data from the internet, software tester and reviewer TechJury calculated, using figures from Physics.org. 

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office cannot keep up with the burgeoning of big data. Patent approvals lag far behind the rate of data growth. That means companies can’t rely on officials to catch or prosecute the unauthorized use of data that is legally protected intellectual property without external prompting, Mallon wrote. Firms, therefore, must take proactive measures to protect their intellectual property, he advised. 

This could mean training employees to guard intellectual property in the course of their everyday activities or having a position or department dedicated to monitoring for infringements on the company’s copyrights, patents or trade secrets and addressing those instances. 

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