Protecting Intellectual Property at Internal Meeting

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
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FloraLaGrande
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Protecting Intellectual Property at Internal Meeting

Post by FloraLaGrande »

Hi there and thank you for reading this!

I am about to pitch an idea internally to one of my bosses about some developments we could make to our department/the company.

I have put together a PowerPoint presentation using the company's brand assets and presentation templates as visuals, accompanied by some citations and images (all referenced).

I want to make it clear within my PPT that the ideas presented and the conclusions reached in it are mine (it has happened to me before that my ideas have been re-used at other meetings and presented without me getting credit or being involved in the conversation). I thought about putting a copyright disclaimer at the last page (References and Resources annex), but it does feel odd to claim 'All Rights Reserved' when the visual material I'm using in the presentation is actually that of the company.

Could someone point me in the right direction as to what's best to do in this case?

Thank you in advance.
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AndyJ
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Re: Protecting Intellectual Property at Internal Meeting

Post by AndyJ »

Hi Flora,

It would appear that there may be several possible intellectual property rights involved here. Let's start with what seems unlikely to apply here.

Copyright. You mention 'ideas [...] and conclusions reached". Unfortunately copyright provides no protection for ideas alone. It only provides protection for your specific expression of the underlying idea, and in theory it would allow others to create their own expression of the same idea. If the underlying concepts/developments you want to talk about are either literary or artistic in their form, say something like a sample of the text of a new operating manual or a written script for dealing with customer complaints or an advertising slogan/campaign then it is possible that your presentation materials could be subject to copyright. However section 11(2) of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 specifies that the owner of any such copyright would be your employer, unless there was a clause in your contract of employment which varied this. But even assuming that you retained the copyright in the expression of your ideas, marking the slides in your presentation with a copyright notice would offer very little protection to those underlying ideas.

Design Right. Similarly if you were suggesting a new design of a product for the company, this might be covered by something called unregistered design right, and again it is most likely that your employer would own that design right for anything created by you in the course of your employment (see section 215(2) CDPA 1988). However from the way you have described things, it doesn't sound as if there is an actual new physical product involved here.

Trade Secrets. The next area of IP for this might be that of trade secrets. There is very little statute law covering trade secrets. The main protection comes from the Trade Secrets (Enforcement) Regulations 2018, but as you will see if you can be bothered to wade through the Regulations, this provides little or no protection to ideas or concepts which are lawfully imparted to someone else, as would be the case with your presentation. It is more about protecting those ideas or processes, provided that they have the necessary qualities of trade secrets, from a third party such as a rival company.

Patents. Just for the sake of completeness we can exclude patents as a patent cannot be used to protect a business process, and in any case you would have needed to have started the patent application process in order to gain any protection.

Confidentiality. So that just leaves a rather more nebulous area of IP covering the pitching of ideas. There is no statute covering this in relation to business practice (unlike say, medical information or personal data). It involves a common law doctrine of confidentiality. The courts have described confidentiality* (in the realm of business) in the following way:
Two elements are normally required if, apart from contract, a state of confidence is said to exist. First, the information itself has the necessary quality of confidence about it. Secondly, that information must have been imparted in circumstances which gives rise to an obligation of confidence.
The tort (civil wrong) of breach of confidence comes about when there is an unauthorised use of that information to the detriment of the person communicating it.

Bear in mind that to meet the first criterion, the ideas you want to protect must not fall into any of these categories: i) The information is generally already accessible (eg in use in another company or sector), ii) It is too trivial or obvious, (ie anyone seeing the end result could easily work how it was achieved) and iii) The public interest in confidentiality is not outweighed by some other countervailing public interest. In order to meet the second criterion, you need some sort of affirmative method of ensuring that your audience realises that what they are about to see and hear obliges them to respect the confidential nature of the information. This is usually done by first asking all participants to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA). You can find examples of NDAs online, but you may need to alter them to suit your circumstances. The key part which must be included is that the company, as represented by any attendees at the meeting, may not use the information without your agreement and may not discuss it without you being present. Obviously the company representative(s) may decline to agree to sign the NDAs. Only you can tell whether such a thing would be acceptable to them. For example if you are employed in role which requires you to come up with new ideas, or to increase the efficiency of the company, it may be that you expected to produce these ideas for the benefit of the company without any strings attached.

I hope this helps you.



* The landmark case from which this description is taken was Coco v A.N.Clark (Engineers) Ltd [1969] RPC 41
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007
FloraLaGrande
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Re: Protecting Intellectual Property at Internal Meeting

Post by FloraLaGrande »

Hi Andy,

Thank you very much for your thorough answer!

I understand the intricacies involved in applying IP law in this case.

Taking into consideration my specific situation, I'd say that it would not feel appropriate to make the other party sign an NDA.

What I am looking for, however, is signalling to the other party in this case that I wish to be credited/involved in any further company discussions that might derive from what is being proposed by me.

I would welcome any suggestion on what might be a good way to do this, whether via email or by referencing myself on the presentation.

Thank you,
Flora
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AndyJ
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Re: Protecting Intellectual Property at Internal Meeting

Post by AndyJ »

Hi Flora,

If this is to be a one-to-one meeting, and you know your boss relatively well, why not just discuss this aspect before the actual presentation? Obviously I know nothing about the office politics involved here, so if you feel that your boss is likely to pinch your idea and raise it higher up the company and take all the credit, this route isn't really viable. I assume there's no internal suggestion scheme in the company. Ultimately if you are forced to submit your ideas through your line manager and you don't trust him, it might be best to wait until he goes on leave, and then raise subject with someone higher up the chain, giving the impression that the idea has just occurred to you. He or she might then say, why don't you discuss this with your boss when he's back from holiday. At least that way someone else knows it was your idea in the first place.
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007
FloraLaGrande
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Re: Protecting Intellectual Property at Internal Meeting

Post by FloraLaGrande »

Hi Andy,

Thank you for your answer. I do believe that it's more of a negotiation challenge than IP protection challenge at this point.

A bit too late to go directly to senior management now but will definitely remember what you suggested for the next time ;)

What I also thought about is maybe inserting a disclaimer slide and/or sending it to my line manager via email with an accompanying note pointing out that the solutions discussed in the presentation are reflective of the author's own positions related to the issue.
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