Technology abounds to protect marketers’ intellectual property

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NFL Photos, a department of the National Football League that oversees its photo library, paid close attention to protecting the copyright of photo images it provides to authorized users on a secure hosted Web site it launched last year.

To ensure that only authorized media organizations, licensees and sponsors gain access to the more than 3,000 photos scanned in to its Internet site each season, NFL Photos established a secure hosted Web site with WebWare Corp., Sausalito, Calif., that enables only pre-approved users with individual passwords to enter and obtain its photos.

Other safety features include copyright warnings on the front end that alert users that photos cannot be stored on any hard drive and that each transaction is for one-time use, said Paul Spinelli, director of photographic services for the Los Angeles-based league.

But those actions are proving insufficient. "We have a much bigger presence online now than we did in previous years, and we’re seeing more people lifting our photos to unauthorized Web sites and generating revenue off of our intellectual property," Spinelli said.

Although NFL Photos knows its clients that visit the WebWare site and logs the photos they obtain, Spinelli is evaluating how to take the site’s IP protection to the next level with additional technologies, such as watermarking, that can track what users do with the photos they get.

NFL Photos is not alone in its search for technologies to protect its Web site’s IP.

While most companies incorporate some basic level of protection into their sites initially, many are finding they need more safeguards, said Cate Quirk, a research associate at AMR Research Inc., Boston.

"Most b-to-b companies have a firewall, but today that’s not enough," she said. "They need to look at higher methods of security. They don’t want to block any partners or suppliers from doing business with them, but they also want to extend their applications to them in a secure manner."

Methods that can protect online trademarks, copyrighted material, art and other content fall into two general categories: preventive measures and reactive measures.

Preventive technologies—such as access management, encryption and watermarking—generally attempt to erect safeguards that deter misuse of data or trademarks, or deny access to particular areas of a Web site to all but a select group of visitors. Reactive measures are geared to detect potential infringements of a site’s IP with search tools that scan the Web for protected information and assess whether an infringement has occurred.

Quirk recommends a combination approach as the most effective way for marketers to protect themselves. However, she cautions, managers shouldn’t get more than they need because making it too difficult to use a site can turn away potential customers.

Hunt for safeguards

Before beginning the hunt for the right safeguarding products, Web sites first need to conduct a thorough audit of their IP, said Stephen Durchslag, a capital partner in the IP department of Winston & Strawn, a Chicago-based law firm.

Companies need to make a list of their trademarks and copyrighted material, and note whether they are registered, Durchslag said. They need to itemize their trade secrets and identify what steps have been taken to protect them, he said. Only then can executives make an informed "needs assessment" and fill any holes, he said.

On the preventive side, access management is the hottest trend in IP, Quirk said. Access management—also known as authentication and authorization—enables companies to protect their IP without blocking it completely. With sign-on codes, select visitors, such as partners, are granted special entry to certain areas but perhaps not to other parts that are deemed off limits. Some top vendors of these products include Entegrity Solutions Corp., San Jose; Securant Technologies Inc., San Francisco; and Netegrity Inc., Waltham, Mass.

Encryption products use a math algorithm around segments of data, such as a highly confidential document, on a Web site. Only users that have a "key" or de-encryption code, can read such sections. Sensitive trade secrets are good candidates for encryption, and some companies are using it for sending secure e-mails or legal documents over the Web.

Yet the technology hasn’t taken off as once anticipated, Quirk said. A thorough implementation takes enormous internal effort, as long as a year or two to roll out, and can easily cost $1 million or more, she said. Some versions of encryption are available from RSA Security Inc., Bedford, Mass.; Entrust, Santa Clara, Calif.

Watermarking uses a technology that embeds an invisible fingerprint on digital information (documents or art) taken from a Web site, and remains hidden in the material that’s purchased so it can always be identified as originating from a particular site. This protective strategy is growing in popularity but is most useful when a company is trying to prove that an IP infringement has occurred, said Leonard Rubin, partner and head of the IP section of the Chicago law firm of Gordon & Glickson L.L.C.

If a site using watermarking technology files a lawsuit against another company for unlawful use of its data or images, examination of the accused company’s computers would reveal the watermark and provide evidence that material was copied, said Rubin, whose firm specializes in IP. Some vendors of watermarking technology include Inc., San Jose; and Digimarc Corp., San Francisco.

Monitoring brand usage

On the reactive side, there are companies that offer high-tech search tools that scour the Internet to make sure a company’s dealers or franchisees, for example, are using trademarks or products according to the terms of their contracts.

Companies also might use these searches to discover how their brand is depicted throughout the Internet and to identify illegal uses on other Web sites. Some vendors offering these services include Riptech, Alexandria, Va.; Counterpane Internet Security Inc., Cupertino, Calif.; Guardent Inc., Waltham, Mass.; and Net Searchers, Princeton, N.J.

Net Searchers can conduct a one-time audit of the Internet to see how a company’s trademark or brand is being used, said Roy Hibbard, managing director of the firm’s North American operations. On many occasions, a company will retain Net Searchers to help identify whether its brand is being "cyber-smeared," or used inappropriately, and prioritize areas of the Internet where infringement may be a problem. It’s then up to the company to pursue its own investigation or tighten internal policies, he said. Monthly or quarterly follow-up searches often are added to monitor identified abuses and look for new problems.

AMR’s Quirk emphasizes the need for ongoing vigilance once the right protective measures are in place. "Security of IP should be constantly re-evaluated and reassessed to make sure it’s always at the level a b-to-b [company] needs," she said.

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