Top Secrets

The newest way to keep trespassers off your intellectual property.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the March 1999 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

To an , nothing is more valuable than an original idea, be it a new business plan, a product design or even the look of a Web site. And like any other precious object, these ideas must be protected lest they somehow find their way into the clutches of unscrupulous competitors who would like nothing better than to call the fruits of your labor their own. Enter, an online registry for intellectual properties and other important documents.

In business since last October, the company's unique authentication process allows users to document text, graphic, video or audio files in any spoken or computer language without requiring them to divulge the actual contents of the files themselves. To register a document with firstuse. com, the user uploads a copy of the file to the Web site, which creates a `digital fingerprint,' a binary code representation of the file, which encrypts and saves on its database. Then, the company creates a time- and date-stamped digital registration certificate that can be viewed at by anyone seeking to validate the ownership of the file. Document registration can be done 24 hours a day, from any computer in the world with access to the .

While the registration certificate is not a legally binding document, it has already been successfully used in U.S. courts as supplemental documentation of the ownership of intellectual property.

Obviously, there are other ways for you to legally document your , ranging from filling out a copyright application to simply sending the document to yourself via registered mail, but contends that there is no other method as timely or as tamper-proof as an online registry. Even data that is stored on a private computer can be easily altered, says Craig Honick, co-founder of

"Digital files can be backdated or manipulated in other ways," Honick says. "So when you bring them into court or [as evidence in] a dispute of some kind over documentation, someone can easily say `You could have done that last night and dated it two years ago.'"

Registering proprietary information with, which starts at $15 per transaction, may also serve to discourage lawsuits over intellectual property in the first place, contends Honick. "If [competitors] know that you have documentation registered with firstuse, they'll be less likely to challenge your ownership of an idea. It just won't be worth their time or money to try the case."

Honick believes the logo of stamped on documentation of intellectual properties will eventually have the same force as the copyright symbol does today.

Dirty Tricks

Who's reading your e-mail?

Cellular phones and PCs may be increasing the efficiency of U.S. workers, but the ubiquity of these new technologies in the workplace is also creating moral dilemmas. In a recent survey of U.S. workers by the Society of Financial Service Professionals and the Ethics Officer Association, nearly half admitted to engaging in unethical behaviors related to high-tech gadgets.

The most common behavior was "creating a potentially dangerous situation by using new technologies while driving" (19 percent). Other diabolical deeds committed (and admitted) by the survey's participants included blaming an error they made on a technological glitch (14 percent), duplicating company software for use at home (13 percent) and reading private computer files without permission (6 percent). While the survey made no direct connection between job stress and unethical behavior, 66 percent of those polled said they were under pressure from heightened productivity expectations.


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