Will people ever live in a digital world 24/7? Nobody knows for sure, but the metaverse is certainly expanding rapidly. As the world dives deeper into the digital realm, companies need guidance on how to protect their assets and intellectual property (IP).

Consider that the top 10 most expensive NFTs in the world all sold for over $6 million each. In January 2022, 2.4 million NFTs sold on OpenSea, the world’s largest NFT marketplace. This marks a million more NFT transactions compared to December 2021. (On the other hand, some warn that the bubble may burst.) The rise of NFTs is evidence that digital artwork holds real value, and it’s big business. Some even earn millions designing outfits for your avatar.

Still, other more common digital business assets also exist, and they all require protection. Think of patents, copyrights, trademarks, franchises, customer databases and trade secrets. IP could also include development code for a new innovative application. This leaves many wondering how to protect intellectual property rights in the innovation process.

Given the constant threat of cyber crime, valuable assets need strong security, both from a legal and a technical standpoint.

What requires IP protection?

The St. Francis School of Law provides this list of intellectual property examples:

  • Patents
  • Domain names
  • Industrial design
  • Confidential information
  • Inventions
  • Moral rights
  • Database rights
  • Works of authorship
  • Service marks
  • Logos
  • Trademarks
  • Design rights
  • Business or trade names
  • Commercial secrets
  • Computer software.

It’s as if anything that can be digitized, written or drawn may be IP. But if it’s digital, it can be copied and stolen as well. And as metaverse plans grow, this risk will only increase. For example, in January 2022, artist Aja Trier was shocked to discover that her Van Gogh-style paintings had been turned into nearly 86,000 unauthorized NFTs listed for sale on OpenSea.

What if somebody decides to copy-paste reams of code your team wrote for a groundbreaking new app? Remember the insider threat incident at Tesla? An employee was accused of making code changes to the company’s operating system under false usernames and exporting large amounts of highly sensitive data to unknown third parties.

These real-world incidents are certain to continue. The best protection combines legal and technical countermeasures.

How to protect your intellectual property? Make a list

While IP protection is an extensive topic, some basic strategies apply. For example, start with compiling a list of your digital assets. These can include:

  • Websites and applications
  • Social media accounts
  • Customer information / client databases
  • Proprietary digital business tools and processes
  • Photos, videos and images
  • Anything under copyright, trademarks and patents.

From there, work with your legal team to determine where ownership has been legally established. Another part of this list-making process includes finding a baseline value for digital assets. IP value may come into play for any dispute about digital asset theft or fraud, or even for merger and acquisition negotiations.

Now let’s take a closer look at some specific examples about how to protect intellectual property rights.

NFT intellectual property protection

A non-fungible token (NFT) is a unique blockchain-based token consisting of a chain of digital references to a specific intangible asset. The asset could be a digital file that encodes music, art, video, icons, GIFs or any other digital product.

NFTs give creators a way to control the sale, display and/or reproduction of digital assets. Since NFTs reside in smart contracts with programmable self-executing commands, the creator can program a ‘resale right’ into all subsequent sales of the NFT. This royalty is paid every time the NFT changes hands. It allows creators to monetize their work without third parties, such as private galleries or music distributors.

Any digital asset must be uploaded to a hosting platform before the NFT can be minted for exchange. It’s critical to go with a reputable platform with stringent IP policies. The policies should emphasize the unauthorized uploading and minting of NFTs, including a clear ‘take down’ approach when infringement is found.

Software development intellectual property protection

Ever wonder how to protect intellectual property rights in the innovation process? When it comes to software development, protecting your assets starts with documentation. Doing this right serves two purposes. First, it makes the development process more orderly, easier to track and keeps efforts aligned with business goals. It also helps to protect intellectual property rights.

If someone steals your software and tries to sell it as their own, they won’t have proof of development. But if you clearly documented your development journey, that’s strong evidence of ownership.

Also, for larger projects, it makes sense to separate teams, even geographically if possible. Restrict access so nobody can steal or sabotage the entire project.

Other IP protection advice

Here are some general tips for how to protect your intellectual property:

  • Partners, employees, freelancers, clients and consultants should all sign strong, well-defined non-disclosure agreements
  • Apply for copyrights (for original artistic expressions or works of authorship), trademarks (for brand names, symbols or logos) and patents (for unique methods and things)
  • Avoid joint IP ownership which may lead to future confusion or conflict
  • Leverage imposter detection methodology that includes AI-based threat mapping to detect threat actors stealing your IP (fake websites, unauthorized sales, counterfeit products, imposter social media, etc.).

Strong access control protects your IP

While some assets may be copy-pasted or counterfeited, many types of IP theft only occur if threat actors breach your systems and networks. That’s why robust access control is imperative to protect intellectual property. For example, if you implement least privilege access organization-wide, any given user has only the least amount of access.

According to CISA, least privilege means “only the minimum necessary rights should be assigned to a subject that requests access to a resource and should be in effect for the shortest duration necessary (remember to relinquish privileges).”

Least privilege is a key feature of identity and access management (IAM) which is a broader way to manage access security. For large enterprises, least privilege can be difficult to manage given the number of users accessing different systems. Plus, the level of access granted to any user at any given time could vary depending on their role.

Adaptive access solves the problem of varying privilege by checking access variables on an ongoing basis. IAM software leverages machine learning and AI to analyze parameters such as user, device, activity, environment and behavior. A comprehensive, adjustable risk score then determines whether or not to grant access.

Future-proof your IP security

Strong intellectual property protection is critical for any brand or organization. Securing your assets now is more important than ever. Even if we end up fully immersed in the metaverse, your IP security will continue to protect your digital assets.

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