As an entrepreneur it’s important to understand the concept of intellectual theft – the act of using without permission, or stealing someone’s else intellectual property. Intellectual property (IP) can be defined as any new method, a commercial or any distinctive creation that has economic value, or any unique mark which can include a logo, symbol, or a name that is used for commercial practices.
This kind of property includes ideas that are protected by copyrights, patents, trademarks, and trade secret laws. Logos, poems, mechanical inventions, client lists, and other items can all be covered under intellectual property.
Intellectual property is protected by copyrights on creative pursuits for instance poems, photos, and music; trademarks for branded products or commercial marks; and patents for inventions. IP is protected under federal and state laws.
How to know when IP Theft has occurred
Intellectual property theft happens when an individual knowingly steals, takes, or misappropriates property that falls under the protection of laws around IP. For instance, in case someone copies a logo that belongs to another company with full knowledge that the logo belongs to someone else – this can be considered as IP theft. For it to qualify as IP theft, the IP normally has to be used without the owner’s consent.
Another classic example of intellectual property theft is when a restaurant employee steals a secret recipe of a particular item on the menu, and then goes ahead and uses the same recipe to cook food in another restaurant.
When you become a victim of IP theft
In case your IP is stolen or used without your permission, there are a number of paths that you can take:
Usually, the first step is to ask the individual who stole or is using the intellectual property without your permission to stop. It is possible that the individual committed the IP theft without intending to do so. In this particular case, they will immediately stop using your intellectual property or even agree to pay for it.
If you ask someone to stop using the work, and he/she fails to listen, you can take legal action. Even if you don’t intend to sue the individual who stole your IP, the threat of a lawsuit from a business litigation lawyer is generally motivation enough for someone to stop using your IP.
Why does IP theft occur?
IP theft is cheap, easy, and quick to commit. All that needs to happen for a thief to steal your IP is just to copy your product, idea or work. Usually, you might not even know your has been stolen. Since someone else has done all the heavy lifting, the thief benefits from your work without breaking a sweat.
It is possible that IP thieves will benefit financially from the theft. This profit loss can affect you deeper than just a simple theft. It is possible that the theft of their IP will result in damages to your business and reputation.
Types of intellectual property
Since there are numerous types of IP, there also different kinds of IP theft. The kind of IP that has been stolen will determine the rights you have while prosecuting IP theft.
A trade secret is a piece of information which is valuable to a business, but not usually known. This particular material is kept private to preserve its economic value.
A patent is granted for any new invention. There are three kinds of patents: plant, design, and utility.
Material that can be trademarked is very limited. The only type of materials that can be trademarked are designs, phrases, symbols, and words which identify a brand.
This is material which is fixed in a tangible medium and is an expression of creativity. This can include books, software, paintings, photographs, and poems.
Legal consequences of IP theft
If you can identify the individual who stole your IP and take them to court, there are a few harsh penalties for this particular crime. The majority of IP cases are tried as federal cases, and thus they are considered federal crimes.
The possible consequences of IP theft are:
- Loss or suspension of an operating license held by a business
- Civil charges which can include business profits lost because of the theft
- Seizure of the stolen IP
- Imprisonment and the length of time will depend on the nature of the charges
- Criminal fines
Intellectual property protection laws come with costly and stiff penalties for any violation. As a matter of fact, a majority of intellectual property theft and infringement of protection cases are taken to federal court, which means the accused will be faced with harsher penalties if found guilty.
Your intellectual property is valuable. Always take diligent and necessary steps to protect it.
Michael Kay is a seasoned and licensed business litigation attorney operating out of Dallas, Texas. He is also a principal partner at the law firm of Dallas Business Litigation Attorney, which is the premier law firm in Dallas that focuses on helping businesses solve all their legal issues.
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