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At the Core of Intellectual Property Protection

Safeguarding semiconductor trade secrets in an increasing digital world

Intellectual Property protection is a growing and evolving issue for semiconductor companies today, as we have continuously seen the industry suffer considerably from the damaging impacts of trade secret theft. In a time of heightened alert, what can companies do to safeguard their most precious trade secrets?

While the loss of trade secrets can be both accidental and intentional, companies can implement a comprehensive approach to address most domains; one that should be customized based on the risk profile of the organization. With the right protection strategy in play, companies can mitigate risks and maintain their competitive advantages in the marketplace.

Meet our subject matter experts

Irfan Saif
Security & Privacy Principal
Deloitte & Touche LLP

Scott Angel
Semiconductor Practice Leader
Partner, Deloitte & Touche LLP


Scott Angel: Intellectual property protection is a growing and evolving problem for the entire technology industry. In both the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice, Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property unit, indicate that U.S. semiconductor technologies are actively being targeted by foreign nation states for their most valuable trade secrets.

What can you do to safeguard your most precious trade secrets?

Irfan Saif: In recent years, foreign actors have profited greatly from stealing intellectual property, both from U.S. corporations and global corporations. While patented IP is protected through legislation within certain geographies, trade secrets are inherently more difficult to protect. Theft of trade secrets could be accidental or intentional and regardless of the nature, the impact can have devastating effects on the company’s future revenue, brand and reputation, investor confidence, business partner relationships and ultimately, their competitive edge moving forward.

There are a number of key IP protection challenges faced by semiconductor companies. To combat these complex challenges, leaders should consider a framework that leverages relevant industry standards and guidelines and provides guidance on relevant people, process and technology elements for IP protection.

A comprehensive framework can address most domains and can be customized based on the risk profile of the specific organization.

To start, you should ask yourselves some simple questions, including what are our key trade secrets and where are they physically and virtually located across the enterprise, what are we really doing to protect these key trade secrets and is that adequate in the semiconductor industry where intellectual property is highly targeted. It is a critical consideration to take a hard look at your company’s portfolio of trade secrets. Once you have a firm understanding of your company’s portfolio of trade secrets, prioritize trade secrets according to their value to your organization based on the risk of loss, compromise or theft. Then, do some effective threat modeling to determine what appropriate protections to put in place. Then, it’s about deploying a comprehensive protection strategy that makes sense for your company. Through all of this, ownership should not be overlooked. An executive responsible for IP is a key aspect of an effective sustainable IP program.

Considering taking the following approach: Analyze how your company’s trade secrets map to organizational business processes throughout their entire life cycle. Perform a risk assessment against the mapped trade secrets. Based on the risk assessment, establish an enterprise-wide data protection framework, but a GAP analysis to determine how well your existing practices protect your trade secrets versus the data protection framework. Address these gaps and establish metrics to continuously assess the effectiveness of your program and make sure the right measures are filtered through supporting processes, such as vendor contracts, training programs and so on.

Scott Angel: It’s time for executive-level leadership to proactive address these ever-increasing risks of intellectual property affecting the semiconductor industry. When we consider the overwhelming cost impact that a breach may have, it is critical to implement the right framework for your company so that you are able to protect your most valuable assets.

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