Several years ago, and at the start of my career, I worked with an agency that was a sub-contractor for the FBI. The security measures and training in protecting sensitive information was outstanding. Simply to gain access to your computer, one had to pass through several layers of security. Once you made it into your computer, there were more layers that you had to get through. The measures of how the information was protected, that was entered into the system, was impressive. But what really stood out to me was the amount and quality training, the awareness, education and the controls that were established and put into place. They dedicated hours of informative sessions that were meaningful, and it created a tone that was contagious and recognized by every single person. I remember in one of the training sessions, the instructor asked, “What are we protecting here?”
One person shouted out, “Everything!”
“Exactly right!” the instructor responded.
A lot of information and discussions are happening at universities throughout our Nation about outside influence, intellectual property, conflicts of interest, etc., and it got me to thinking about what we are protecting here at our University. In a recent post I was reading, John Villasenor was writing about intellectual property awareness. He stated that a small survey was conducted within a group of his students and 68% of the students stated that they didn’t know enough to answer the question “What is a trade secret?” This got me thinking, “Of the 32% that did answer that, how many got it right?” To his point, you can’t ask folks to protect something when they don’t know what that is.
So, here’s a question for you: Can you quickly and accurately define intellectual property? Do all of our students, faculty, staff and support services know the definition to this question? Likewise, what is the definition of sensitive information? What controls do you have in place to secure and protect sensitive information? It’s wise to take a step back, reflect, and assess your responses to those two areas, then do a mental walk through of your department to determine your internal controls. Also, determine your students’ and employees’ awareness to these questions.
In addition, are you aware of your requirements, policies, procedures, rules, regulations, and even laws in these areas? Even for the folks that don’t work in research, we should all be aware and know what sensitive information is and we should all know what, where and how to protect it.
What is Intellectual Property? (as defined by the World Intellectual Property Organization)
Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.
For more specific information on Universities and Intellectual Property, see WIPO’s webpage of Frequently Asked Questions.