MSPs: Know Your Intellectual Property Rights

As an MSP you probably haven’t given much thought to your intellectual property. But just about every MSP has some to protect.

Like snowflakes, no two MSPs are exactly alike, so chances are you have processes and systems in place unique to your business. Every MSP needs to, first, understand you have intellectual property rights; second, determine what constitutes intellectual property in your business; and, third, take the proper steps to protect it.

Types of Intellectual Property

Intellectual property exists in various forms. It isn’t just inventions and patents. It also involves trademarks, copyrighted works and business processes. For instance, if you write a script to automate a specific task performed by your help desk, so long as it isn’t just a copy-and-paste from one of your vendors, it should qualify as intellectual property.

In “A Legal Guide to Managed Services,” attorney Robert J. Scott, of the law firm Scott in Southlake, TX, cites four types of intellectual property – patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets.

Patents are granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for inventions, and constitute property. Copyrights, issued by the U.S. Copyright Office, cover written work, photos, music, plays and certain multimedia works. Only the owner of a copyright can legally reproduce and distribute copies of it. Trademarks are words or logos associated with the sale of goods and services; owners have rights to their exclusive use.

Trade secrets are a little trickier to define, but that doesn’t make them any less important. As defined by Scott: “Trade secrets are ideas or information that have commercial value because they are not widely known. Trade secrets can include business methods, processes, formulas, patterns, and techniques. Trade secret laws do not protect your secrets if someone else discovers the secret independently.”

Intellectual Property Protection

Protecting your intellectual property requires some work on your part. Non-disclosure agreements (NDA) with partners, clients and third parties that specify each party’s responsibility in protecting confidential information offer some protection.

You should also have language addressing intellectual property in your customer contracts. Atrion Networking, Warwick, RI, addresses ownership of the code underlying its managed services at the beginning of each client engagement, CEO Tim Hebert has told SearchITChannel.

“Atrion’s policy is to retain the rights to all underlying code for an integration project or deployments, so that the same approaches can be used with other clients. If improvements or enhancements are made for one customer, they can often be applied to infrastructure elsewhere,” SearchITChannel reported.

Stopping Violations

If you find that someone is violating your intellectual property rights, Scott advises taking immediate steps to stop it. “One way to protect your rights is to have counsel prepare a cease and desist letter to the infringer.”

If that fails, you can sue. That’s a step you’d want to avoid because lawsuits are expensive, but don’t ignore the violation. “If you fail to take the appropriate steps, you are risking waiving your claim for infringement,” Scott says.

If you haven’t given intellectual property much thought, take the time to review your business processes and information to determine what can be protected as such. After all, it’s your right.

Most people think intellectual property is about inventions and patents. They overlook the fact that it also includes trademarks, copyright, trade secrets and know-how. MSPs usually don’t have patents or inventions – but they do have a great deal of experience and knowledge.