Protecting Intellectual Property In A Borderless World

Recent global and domestic headlines have highlighted discussions about borders and national sovereignty. It is a natural subject, given the concept of countries and borders has been a fundamental aspect of our world for centuries, shaping our identity, politics — and the way we perceive security. Given these challenges, it is prudent to question the significance of traditional borders and to explore a shift in focus towards bolstering the protection of intellectual property (IP), particularly in the context of cybersecurity. As we discussed in prior articles, several cyber groups, including those funded by foreign intelligence agencies such as China, Russia, and North Korea, are often more interested in IP theft than actual monetary gain.

The Borderless Concept

Dispensing with the idea of countries and borders might initially appear radical. But like it or not, the concept of a borderless world is something being pondered today. The notion of a world without borders has been the subject of discourse in various contexts, emphasizing a shift in focus from conventional territorial boundaries, trade, and territorial disputes. The borderless shift is not unlike the swift movement of global digital assets and commerce that describes modern commercial cloud systems. With so many critical cyber assets put into cyber infrastructures, many argue it is increasingly critical to prioritize issues that transcend physical borders, especially the safeguarding of intellectual property.

To put this into the context of intellectual property (IP) protection and national security, look no further than the news of a recent government panel and public statements made by FBI Director Christopher Wray. Topped off by Director Wray, the heads of intelligence agencies from the ‘Five Eyes’ alliance came together publicly for the first time to issue a dire warning about the growing threats to intellectual property posed by competing and threatening nations. Wray went on to call out one such nation, China, as the ‘defining threat of this generation’ in a ’60 Minutes’ panel.

Why Emphasize IP Protection?

Intellectual property encompasses a wide range of creations, from patents and copyrights to trademarks and trade secrets. Since the initial emergence of business computing, digital IP has become one of the most valuable assets for businesses and nations alike. Protecting intellectual property isn’t just about safeguarding corporate profits; it’s about maintaining technological leadership, fostering innovation, and ensuring national security.

The primary objectives of recent warnings are clear: Intellectual property protection must assume a central role in national security strategies. Here are several key reasons for this imperative:

  • Economic Resilience: Intellectual property theft exacts a considerable toll on the global economy, resulting in billions of dollars in annual losses. Nations with robust IP protections are better equipped to capitalize on innovation and safeguard their economic interests.
  • Fostering Innovation and Technology Leadership: Protecting IP instills confidence in innovators that their creations will remain secure, thereby promoting continuous innovation and maintaining global technological leadership.
  • Safeguarding National Security: In an era where technology and information are inextricably linked, the compromise of sensitive intellectual property can have severe repercussions for national security. From military technologies to critical infrastructure, IP theft can erode a nation’s ability to defend itself effectively.
  • Diplomatic Considerations: Intellectual property issues have emerged as a significant point of contention in international diplomacy. Addressing IP concerns diplomatically can help foster stable and peaceful international relations.

From Assets To Liability

IP can be a tremendous asset to a company, and can be thought of as their crown jewels. If it is stolen, only to be replicated without the cost of R&D, and the long development journey including the blood, sweat, and tears of the entrepreneur, it can be devastating. Emotions aside, IP thefts from hardware, to software, to services, have risen to become national security issue draining billions of GDP from our countries. The recent warnings by intelligence chiefs are just the tip of the iceberg, underscoring the urgency of this matter. By emphasizing IP protection, we not only safeguard economic interests but also bolster innovation, technological leadership, and national security. But where do we go from here?

2024: Strong Cybersecurity Principles Still Rule

The process to protecting IP – and national security – begins with implementing strong cybersecurity principles, Zero Trust architectures, continuous monitoring, and as-built security architected to the highest standards. Organizations play a critical role in the process, and must reassess priorities on behalf of their colleagues, their companies, and the nation. It is vital that we accord as much, if not more, significance to safeguarding intellectual property as we do to securing physical boundaries. The future of innovation, economic prosperity, and national security is inextricably linked to our commitment to this cause.

This article was originally published in Forbes, please follow me on LinkedIn.