Minimize Loss of Intellectual Assets When Downsizing  

POSTED BY Jed Cahill AT 2:05 P.M. JUNE 23, 2009

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Is your company planning to lay off employees in response to a tougher economic environment? Do you have a process for preventing valuable intellectual assets from walking out the door along with your exiting employees?

Most companies planning to downsize their workforce as a short-term fix to reduce costs face very high risk of severe damage to long-term competitiveness and prosperity through the loss of valuable intellectual assets.

Fortunately, HR can collaborate with your Intellectual Asset Management (IAM) and Intellectual Property (IP) teams to mitigate this risk substantially. We have developed a ten-step program that is conducted before, during, and after downsizing:

Before Downsizing

  1. Audit existing HR practices for managing intellectual assets and IP: Identify weaknesses that can be fixed prior to a planned downsizing event.
  2. Identify top quality inventors and potential "sand bag" inventors: Help ensure you do not cut the wrong positions.
  3. Conduct systematic "exit scanning" and lock down trade secrets: Systematically extract intellectual assets and potential IP from personnel who may be included in downsizing. Then lock down new trade secrets in a controlled database.
  4. Secure and Monitor Confidential Documents: Consider freezing access to the most critical company documents, and establish a process to monitor downloads by employees leading up to a downsizing event. Monitored activity should then be reviewed with employees at exit interviews.
  5. Accelerate documentation of in-process inventions: Identify and accelerate completion of any in-process invention disclosures, provisionals, or patent applications that are not yet fully documented.
  6. Develop an intellectual asset dossier of each employee for HR management: Document the output from the above steps for each employee to be included in downsizing. Provide the dossiers to HR management for use in exit interviews.

During Downsizing

  1. Review intellectual asset dossiers with employees in exit interviews: Remind exiting employees of the contractual ownership of all intellectual assets and trade secrets related to your business that they have developed during their employment, including those contained in the dossiers.

After Downsizing

  1. Analyze and organize employee IP-related records: Review inventor lab notebooks and other files related to research, development, and invention developed by exited employees. Add any additional intellectual assets captured to the intellectual asset dossiers created in previous steps.
  2. Track key inventor movements and IP development post-exit: Install a simple patent monitoring system to view new patent filings on which your exited employees are named inventors. Determine any potential overlaps with work completed under employment at your company.
  3. Develop inventor-specific IP strategies where necessary: Some special-case exited employees such as prolific inventors, known industry experts, and respected thought leaders may warrant a specific IP strategy unto themselves.

To obtain more information or discuss your unique challenges, please contact us.

TAGS: IAM | Jed Cahill | Process | Trade Secrets
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