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IT's new assignment: Generate revenue

Mary K. Pratt | April 23, 2013
Sure, all CIOs seek to add value, but some are taking their quest outside the walls of the enterprise by targeting customers directly.

Legal Briefing

Protect Your Intellectual Property

As IT departments dip their toes into the waters of the commercial marketplace, they need to be mindful of the twin needs to protect their intellectual property and avoid infringing on the intellectual property rights of others.

After all, you don't want to develop a critical application only to later learn that some piece of code wasn't yours to use, or find that a competitor managed to come to market with something similar because you didn't take necessary legal precautions.

That's why the development process in the IT department at GE Power Generation Services includes a review by an internal control and compliance team. That team looks at whether a proposed project could infringe on any other entity's intellectual property rights or whether it needs any IP protection to guard against infringement by others.

"We're taught very early in our careers at GE to think about infringement and protection," says Jim Fowler, CIO for GE Power Generation Services. IT workers attend training on copyright and IP protections so they learn to keep these issues in mind as they work, he explains.

IP attorneys say that's a smart strategy, since technology increasingly is what differentiates one company from the competition.

"Any time you [develop] software or hardware, you want to make sure, first, that you can do that -- that you're not violating someone else's IP rights," says attorney David Burns, a partner in the Boston office of McCarter & English. Second, companies need to ensure that they're safeguarding their investments via some sort of IP protection, he says.

Robert J. Tosti, a partner in the Boston office of Brown Rudnick, says companies should follow these three basic steps, whether they're developing something for internal use or external sale:

• Determine whether the proposed product violates someone else's IP rights, including a licensing agreement or a patent.

• Ask what kind of protection might be needed. Software is automatically protected by copyright, but copyright protection has limits. Some applications can be patented, which offers a higher level of protection, Tosti says.

• Consider asking employees to sign confidentiality and nondisclosure agreements to ensure that anyone who leaves the company won't share proprietary information.

The cost of taking those steps in advance may reach into the thousands, say Tosti and other IP attorneys, but the cost of addressing an IP problem later on is often much higher.

- Mary K. Pratt

The kiosks (designed by PHI tech workers and built by an outside vendor) can sit anywhere a client needs them, including third-party transportation terminals. PHI also offers a handheld device that uses fingerprint scans to quickly account for and track workers during evacuations of deep-sea rigs.


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