PwC works to protect clients' intellectual property

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) LLP launched its Digitection service Wednesday, attempting to help large corporate customers protect their assets in a digital age. The Digitection service should help clients keep a tight watch on intellectual property (IP), including patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets. By combining Web crawling software and content management technology, Digitection scans the Net for signs of IP infringement and then notifies the company's legal and investigative staff of possible violations.

Scott Charney, a partner at PwC, said that protecting IP on the Internet is often a troublesome and costly project, particularly for vendors with a global presence.

"The problem is that computers have an incredible ability to reproduce and distribute data," he said.

Users out to infringe on a company's IP can put logos or proprietary information in front of the public eye at a far lower cost and with greater effect than ever before. In addition, copies of infringed works degrade much more slowly over time, making far-reaching distribution of content much easier.

PwC found that clients needed a cost-efficient way to search for IP infringement without using valuable staff-hours in the process. With this in mind, PwC came up with a combination attack, using both its technology and teams of investigators to asses possible problems.

PwC enlisted the help of Cobion Inc. for searching text and Digital Integrity Inc. for tracking down image-related problems. PwC then added a series of its own technologies for identifying what type of violation might be occurring, how widespread the violation is and the amount of human action it might take to rectify the situation.

"You have to figure out ways to automate as many processes as possible and limit the amount of human intervention that is necessary," Charney said.

The PwC software could, for instance, search the Web and come up with a number of instances where a company's IP has been used in a child's research report on cars, for example. The software would then look for clues that the report appears on a school's Web site and, if found, mark it as a non-priority infringement. If, however, the software detected the presence of a credit card processor on the site, suggesting a commercial use, PwC would likely target the site as a very real threat.

After churning through data, PwC then goes to a client with the results, a team of investigators and some lawyers. The client then could outline a course of action for dealing with the infringers and calculate any damages done.

One analyst said the IP assistance provided by PwC is a good compliment to the company's other services, but questioned how much money it would ultimately save PwC's clients.

"For PwC, Digitection would be a benefit because it is one more feature to offer clients who often find such searches hard to justify on their own," Susan Billheimer, an industry analyst with Zona Research Inc. in Redwood City, California. "But it's still hard to imagine that companies are significantly hurting because of IP issues. The cost of hunting infringers down and pursuing them is not worthwhile in many cases."

The issue of stealing IP on the Internet can differ dramatically form in the brick and mortar world. Users might gain access to a company's research and innocently post the documents on a Web site for the benefit of a small group, but search engines could spread the valuable documents the world over.

In addition, Billheimer said it's tough deciding when to pursue individuals who post information on the Web in violation of copyrights because of the Internet's global reach. Differing laws in remote locations often make it difficult to justify an all-out legal assault.

Companies can also benefit in the long run from certain IP breaches. As some have argued in the case of renegade music-swapping service Napster Inc., the Web's ability to spread information to users who might not usually find it can sometimes help generate sales in untapped markets and publicity beyond a company's usual scope.

"There is going to be an underlying benefit in having that distribution," Billheimer said.

PwC's model, however, does reduce some of the risks and costs associated with IP issues for some clients, Billheimer said.

PwC said pricing for the service, available immediately, varies widely depending on a customer needs.

PwC can be contacted at +1-212-597-3737, or via the Web at http://www.PwCglobal.com.

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