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April 28, 2008

Don’t Read This Column; It’s Proprietary!


You want to know the most overused word in business?




(Do come back, of course, so you can learn next week’s most overused word in business.)


The word basically means, “We don’t want you to see or know about this!” If these people were cool, they would stop using the word proprietary and call the stuff “top secret.” Now you’re talking intrigue!


When you call something proprietary, it sounds like you’re keeping it under wraps because some dopey lawyer told you to.


The problem with stuff that’s proprietary is that, a lot of the time, it includes the company’s best selling points. A cool piece of technology that turns dead mite skeletons into guitars. A new idea for how to approach customer service. (Like, maybe, “serve the customer”.) Or a product that allows you to easily put a GPS tracker on your cat so you can find her if she runs away, unless you’d rather not.


You’d think companies would want to tell everyone about stuff like this, but a lot of the time they’re too worried about their competitors copying it – so they make everyone sign confidentiality agreements not to talk about it.


This especially complicates the lives of marketing agencies, who get hired to promote and publicize, but have to sign agreements that they will never tell anyone about all the cool things their clients do.


It’s proprietary!


But even that, as silly as it is, can be somewhat justified by intellectual property concerns. Or at least that’s what I know some intellectual property lawyer was just getting ready to write in an e-mail to me:


“You idiot, Krause! You don’t understand anything about why businesses keep information proprietary! You don’t understand that the nature of their technology may be the only thing that gives them a leg up on the competition, and that if they let this information become public, they would lose all the value it holds! This is why you write such drivel! Because you don’t know what you’re talking about!”


Oh, I understand all that. I think the obsession with it can be kind of stupid. But understand it I do.


What I don’t understand is why people insist on playing the “proprietary” card as a power trip within their own companies.


“Pat, is the marketing plan ready?”


“Yes, it’s in the final approval stages.”


“Great. Can I see it?”


“I’m afraid I can’t do that.”




“It’s proprietary.”


“But I work here!”


“It’s non-negotiable.”


“Were we negotiating?”


“It’s an executive-level directive.”


“You just made that up.”


“My nine o’clock is here.”


“It’s quarter to two.”


“La la la la la!”


You know Pat’s just power-tripping. Whoever heard of a proprietary marketing plan, for crying out loud? As soon as you start marketing, everyone will know what you’re doing anyway.


Uh oh. Here come the e-mails.


“Krause, you idiot! You don’t know anything about . . .”


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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