Safeguarding Corporate IP from the Blogosphere

Blogs are gaining popularity because their speed, ease of use and low cost make them a superior alternative to e-mail for all kinds of communications.

IBM Corp. reportedly has more than 3,000 internal blogs. McDonald’s Corp. is making blogging capability available to thousands of employees to file restaurant reports. Procter & Gamble Co. has about 100 internal blogs and is expanding their use to private communications with business partners.

I agree blogs can be great collaboration tools, but they open a can of worms when it comes to intellectual-property and patent rights.

Blogs can release Intellectual Property to unintended parties when an overenthusiastic employee inadvertently discloses a company trade secret on his or her blog. Once that is out there the company loses its rights to it forever! Now any competitor can now legally use your former trade secret.

So where is the Buzz? smart Buzz Marketing firms have learned to stay on the safe side by developing a multilayered security policy, keeping the sensitive data in-house and prescribing communications policies for blogging employees. Open the door — not the vault!

3 comments to Safeguarding Corporate IP from the Blogosphere

  • Jeff

    I think you have an interesting point here, but I fear that many companies act out of fear and miss the opportunity presented by having the right people in the organization participating in the conversation.

    Blogging by employees can serve a number of very useful purposes, and sometimes can just be a way to show that the company is not governed by lawyers (apologies to several family members are now due…).

    Look at the all-too-famous Robert Scoble. He wasn’t blogging on behalf of, or as a corporate spokesperson for, Microsoft. He was talking about his own topics, and often about Microsoft. His “outsider” opinions and willingness to say less-than-flattering things about his employer (and his employer’s willingness to let him) say a lot about Microsoft’s attitude and approach (do you want to work for a company that governs your outside speech?).

    Same with Jeff Nolan (formerly of SAP). He has been able to put forward his views, and those of his employer, without (much) censorship.

    And at the same time they both became blogosphere personalities. (moving from the 26% category to the 69% from your earlier post, and bringing their companies’ reputation with them.

    But these are both examples of technology companies putting forth experts on their subject and allowing them to speak freely.

    Having been in the professional services business, I can’t imagine a consulting firm allowing the kind of expertise on a blog as, say, Jeff puts on his. To a consultant, that’s IP. It’s value. In fact it is the very value on which the consultant’s business is based.

    Not so for software companies. The expertise in the technology, process and business is what established thought-leadership, and is one of many things that enable the selling of more software.

    Maybe I state it harshly, but the point is that the IP that can be released on a blog by an employee varies widely by industry. It is significantly influenced by the source of value for the company, and what purpose the IP serves.

    Software is not consulting. Which in turn is not CPG, which is not media.

    The caveat I would add to your caution is that the company should think carefully about what might be said. It needs to make clear that disclosure of confidential information on a blog is as serious as, say, e-mailing it to a competitor.

    But (in my plea for less censorship in the blogosphere) if a company does not trust its employees not to e-mail confidential information to a competitor, I have to wonder why it allows e-mail at all. And likewise, people will blog – on their own time if not on the company’s. And the company needs to state the information disclosure policy, but I think that if a company goes farther and limits employee blogging in a more restrictive way, it begins to show that it is running scared from something, and this is not the image most companies want.

    The reality is that people are talking about the company. Customers, vendors, suppliers and ex-employees can all be blogging freely.

    My suggestion is that employees who want to take the time to blog, are likely the ones who really believe in what the company is doing.

    And you never know – you may get the next Jeff Nolan or Robert Scoble.

    All of that to say caution is valuable, but put it in context of your business, and don’t try to close a door you can’t close.

  • seanod

    another common topic for you and I. Interested in your take on this: http://communitygrouptherapy.com/2007/03/05/does-your-company-support-employee-blogging/

    Sean

  • finnstones

    Paul, this is why companies like cymfony and umbria should be pitching a compliance and legal value proposition for enterprise accounts.

    rob
    ww.ventureblogalist.com

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