Protecting Intellectual Property For Startups

Protecting Intellectual Property For Startups

Daftarkhwan recently kicked-off its first ‘DK Insights’ session. Aimed at helping its member community hone its entrepreneurial skills and developing the exciting ideas that exist within the co-working space, ‘DK Insights’ promises to bring in experts from various fields so that they may share their experience and knowledge with the DK community. The first session touched upon an issue of growing concern among Pakistani startups: securing intellectual property. Realizing the importance of this issue, the good people at Daftarkhwan invited information security expert Atif Ahmed to shed some light on it.

Atif is a researcher at the University of Melbourne and a leading professional in the world of information systems. He, drawing on his experience from working as a cybersecurity consultant at renowned firms like WorleyParsons and SinclairKnightMerz, started his talk by pointing out the importance of IP protection not just to individual startups but to entire nations, citing the monetary loss the United States incurred as a result of IP leaks going to Chinese corporations. Atif then moved on to highlight the modus operandi of most IP grabbers and claimed that, “Intellectual property protection is not just a cybersecurity problem but a knowledge problem as well.” Elaborating on his claim, which challenged most of the audience’s pre-conceived notions on information security, he said that ideas are often stolen not via direct security breaches but by the unintentional, and sometimes intentional, leaking of knowledge from within organisations, pointing towards the examples of DuPont v. Kolon industries and T-Mobile v. Huaweii. Atif also touched upon the value of entire ecosystems within successful organisations, stating that specific codes and ideas are not the only things a company needs to protect but it is also the know-how that lives within its employees and its production line that requires protection.

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After introducing everyone to the reality of things, Atif moved on to show his audience of aspiring entrepreneurs how they could maximize security for their unique startups. To most people, the most intuitive answer to the IP security problem is legal protection. Atif, however, does not agree with the efficacy of such solutions. Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are an excuse to talk about confidential information openly while patents only reveal information to competitors trying to build similar projects, in Atif’s opinion. So, to help secure their ideas, he asked the audience to map the flow of information within their respective systems. “Information can flow through digital media, physical media and cognitive media,” he said. It then becomes important for companies, according to him, to ensure the confidentiality of information flowing through each of these mediums. Information is often left exposed when it comes to physical and cognitive media, he claimed. Something as simple as the over-copying of files and informally talking about work with someone can lead to a security breach, as far as Atif is concerned. In Atif’s opinion, it is also important to prioritise information by assessing its value to the company before issuing encryptions on it since it is easier to protect specific pieces of information as opposed to all of it. “When you realise that only 1% of your know-how is valuable, suddenly the world becomes an easier place to live in,” he said. Startups must also compartmentalize information since the secrecy of their principal idea ensures that they have a competitive advantage in the market that they are trying to enter. However, over-compartmentalization might also be a problem, said Atif, since it takes away from a startup’s ability to discuss ideas, share knowledge and innovate. Startups must know who they want to hide information from during different stages of growth and they can only do so once they identify their competitors and gauge their capabilities.

Atif concluded his talk by opening the floor for questions which gave the audience a chance to voice their individual concerns about IP protection in Pakistan.

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