OPSEC and IPCI, You’re Never Too Small.
Is it fair that the large and the well moneyed companies steal a start-up company’s IPCI?
Fairness does not matter, this is what happens.
Small companies, entrepreneurial companies, start up companies rely on their knowledge. These development stage companies rely on their Intellectual Property and Critical Information – their IPCI is their advantage over others, as their kernel for success. Yet often they choose not to protect the IPCI. This choice is more often than not out of carelessness. The choice is out of ignorance. The small companies lack a basic understand of the very real threats to their IPCI and to their existence.
The threats to their existence are not capital, thought that is a problem. The threat is to the IPCI assets that their time talent and treasury have been able to assemble. Is the IPCI loss as the result of a break in to the office at night and a man in balaclava is using his Minox to photograph documents? Not usually. Do the competitors deploy sexy and darning members of the opposite sex to get your designers, executives and engineers to spill the beans on a lust filled weekend vacation? Sorry – no such luck. In reality the smaller companies leak their IPCI more like Hansel and Gretel going through the forest. All leave little bits and pieces of the whole so that in a very short period of the competitors can assemble your whole IPCI from you and your employee’s blithe inadvertent disclosures.
Larger companies and other small development stage companies in your field want your IPCI. The economic purpose of the desire is simple, to anticipate the impact of your technology so the other company can either steal the IPCI and use it for themselves, or develop blocks to your deployment of the technology and prevent you from disrupting their market.
This is not cloak and dagger. It is more like sifting though your trash, watching your employee, a bit of social engineering, maybe even pretending to be a recruiter to recruit some of your employees to new jobs, in the process getting them to elicit some of what you are doing.
It is a big deal for the development stage companies. Larger companies have dozens if not hundreds of IPCI asset items and the loss of any one or two means nothing. The development state companies may only have one or two core IPCI assets, and the compromise of any of these can be fatal. Development state companies are very fragile when it comes to the disclosure and or compromise of their IPCI.
The profession of those dedicated to harvesting your information is called Competitive Intelligence – all Fortune 500 companies I am aware of have a Competitive Intelligence Department looking at many development stage companies just like yours. There is also a professional body called the Society for Competitive Intelligence Professionals or SCIP. SCIP offers excellent resources of how to get the information from company in perfectly legal fashions. You are a target.
Once IPCI is diffuse
It is of little use
All value terminated
Bad Haiku – but the point is clear, if the IPCI you have is no longer exclusive to your company what is the competitive advantage you have? Oh ya – none.
There are times you need to share your IPCI with third parties, potential customers that will assist in the design, build, implement, test of any development stage companies. The general sharing of the IPCI that goes on within the organization must be managed. The sharing with third parties that must be done, especially with potential investors as investors deserve a decent amount of disclosure to make an informed choice also needs to be managed – just allowed to occur. All employees and all key customers and vendors must be made aware of how important your IPCI is to you and your expressed intent to keep it secure for the benefit of all involved.
Non-disclosure and non-circumvention agreements are only just the beginning and for the most part are wholly ineffective at keeping your IPCI secure. These agreements only provide a future for litigation and it is also most likely you do not have the money for litigation in the first place.
Be smart and keep you IPCI secure and discuss with all of those you are working with the need to keep it secure, for you future and theirs. This is the core behind OPSEC. Read up on OPSEC at the OPSEC Professional Society.