Security is never a static process. It always involves a constant cycle of preventative measures, incident detection and mitigation of damage. Whether you’re referring to a CCTV system, a lock on a door, or digital asset protection, these principles are always at play.
They also extend to the protection of a business’s intellectual property.
Recall that we have discussed the importance of registering trademarks, copyrights, domains and social media accounts to protect intellectual property — these steps all fall under the broad category of preventative measures. They help safeguard against potential future incidents. This is an important first step.
However, there also needs to be some way to detect whether a business’s intellectual property is being illegally appropriated or misrepresentated. If you cannot actively monitor your brand, you cannot determine whether an intellectual-property violation has happened. This could mean the difference between discovering a counterfeit product the day it hits the market or only after years of profits leached from your legitimate brand.
Fortunately, there are many solutions available for businesses of all budgets to monitor their intellectual property.
One of the most cost-effective (read: free) tools that should be in every business owner’s arsenal is Google Alerts. Google describes its Alerts tool as allowing users the ability to “monitor the web for interesting new content.” This is an understatement, given the power this tool represents.
Simply sign in to a Google account, access alerts.google.com and start typing in a list of keywords relevant to your brand. Put in as many as you can think of — the company name, all registered copyrights, the names of all domains, product names, the name of your CEO and maybe some generic terms related to the industry you’re in. Once you have saved your alerts, you can sit back and watch your inbox. Once a day, Google will determine whether any new content appears in its search engine related to the keywords you have flagged. If it has, you’ll receive an email linking you right to the content.
For example, I have “Neal Custer” and “Custer Agency” saved as a Google Alert, and I will receive an email within an hour of this column hitting IdahoStatesman.com indicating that those terms popped up somewhere new online.
The uses for Google Alerts are limited to your imagination — reputation maintenance, intellectual-property protection, trend research in an industry and so on — and every business should be employing this free service to the full extent of their creativity.
While Google Alerts are mostly a passive service once they have been set up, it is important to designate the responsibility of brand and trademark protection to one or more employees. This can include monitoring social media discussion as well as actively searching for illegal third-party content. If a business deals primarily in data products, especially something like software or entertainment (music, movies, etc), it’s worth getting to know the main piracy hubs online (such as The Pirate Bay) and searching for your own content. Similarly, if a business produces physical goods, such as various clothing and technology brands, and faces the risks of counterfeiting, it’s important to search various marketplaces (eBay, AliExpress, Amazon) to identify potential fakes.
Remember, without taking the necessary preventative measures (registering copyrights/trademarks, registering domains, and creating a strong social media presence), it is difficult to demonstrate ownership of intellectual property if an incident ever does occur. Likewise, without taking the proper steps to monitor your intellectual property, you may not learn of its misappropriation in a timely manner (or at all).
Next month, we will look at the final step in this sequence — mitigation — and learn exactly what can be done in the case of intellectual-property theft.
Neal Custer is president of Reveal Digital Forensics & Security, a subsidiary of Custer Agency Inc., and an adjunct professor at Boise State University. firstname.lastname@example.org. Written in collaboration with Dylan Evans, Reveal’s vice president of operations. This column appears in the March 16-April 19, 2016, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine.