Intellectual stolen property: businesses don't trust employees with data

Businesses worry that light-fingered employees will make off with their IP, according to a new survey - and rightly so, by the looks.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 14 Jan 2011
It’s been a while since a hapless civil servant left a laptop containing taxpayers' intimate details on a train – but at least those high-profile incidents spurred many businesses into coming up with new ways to stop their confidential data escaping into the wrong hands. But what if it's their own employees they need to worry about? According to a new survey by IP protection firm Inngot, more than 40% of business owners aren’t sure they can trust their own staff with sensitive data like customer databases. Not very healthy, is it...

According to the survey of 1,003 (yes, precisely 1,003) business owners, 21% said they definitely couldn’t trust their employees with their company’s ‘intangible assets’, while another 22% said they were ‘unsure’. Of those, just over half were worried their staff would use data ‘for their own benefit’, while 11% were worried they’d ‘give away trade secrets’ and another 8% said they were concerned they might use the data to set up a rival business.

All of which might come across a tad paranoid – until you take into account the attitude of employees. More than a third cheerfully admitted that they’d quite happily nick company data for their own benefit if they left their current job. So perhaps employers have a point.

On top of that, 69% of the companies that took part in the survey said they’re not entirely convinced their employee contracts can provide ‘water-tight’ protection against their IP being stolen – and since data is many companies' most important asset, that's not exactly ideal. Inngot says it’s important for businesses to keep ‘proper records’ of all their key data, so they can be referenced in employment contracts and company data policies.

On the other hand, perhaps this is more about trust than IP per se. It sounds as though there's been a real breakdown of trust between employer and employee in some of those companies - and if that's the case, it's not just your IP that you need to be worried about. After all, if staff are defecting in numbers to start or join rival companies, perhaps it’s time to start asking some serious questions about your own employment practices, rather than focusing on how water-tight the IP clauses in your contracts are.

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