IP theft is a situation when another person uses your intellectual property for whatever reason they see fit, without you giving them permission to do so. Intellectual property is protected by different rights, such as trademarks (symbols, words, phrases, or designs that make your property unique), copyrights (authored work such as a poem, book, movie, song, software, etc.), trade secrets (valuable info that gives your product the competitive edge and no one else knows about), and patents (inventions, innovations, and business processes, which are completely unique).
So, according to the kind of intellectual property that was stolen from you, you should take into account specific IP laws, and take certain courses of action. In this article, we are going to discuss how to handle such an ugly situation.
Types of IP theft
According to the aforementioned protection rights, there are 4 types of IP theft.
There is trademark theft, when someone steals your trade dress, symbols that identify your product, or anything that leads to brand confusion.
Copyright theft most often happens when it comes to electronic games, computer software, music, films, and books (in print or PDF).
Trade secret theft happens when someone steals sensitive information (such as plans, processes, methods, etc.) that give your business a competitive edge. This commonly happens with computer companies, financial services, and manufacturing businesses.
Finally, patent theft means that someone has copied an invention and released it onto the market without the owner’s permission. It usually includes machines, business processes, and so on.
Send a cease and desist letter to the IP thief
The first step that you should take is to attempt to contact the person who has infringed your IP rights. You should come up with a cease and desist letter (alone or with the help of a lawyer) where you insist that the person or business stops using the work that is rightfully yours. The main items that the letter needs to cover are information about the work in question, what kind of infringement has been made (of the 4 types that we have previously covered), and the action that you want the infringer to take. You should also set a deadline for them to reply, so that you know when and whether it is necessary to take your legal action a step further.
Keep in mind that making threats to the particular person/company, without offering the necessary evidence, is not a lawful approach, and therefore you should avoid it. This is why it is always a good idea to seek legal advice, especially before you decide to go ahead with intellectual property litigation.
What kind of court orders are there?
According to your particular situation, there is a variety of court orders that you can opt for.
The first kind is an injunction. You’ve got an interim and permanent injunction. The first is an immediate but also a temporary order for the thief to stop using your intellectual property. The reason why it’s referred to as interim is due to the fact that you need to convince the court that the situation is urgent, and that you have enough evidence to prove that there has been an infringement. During this period, the court will postpone the order for a permanent injunction until all the evidence has been presented and evaluated. After that, if the court is persuaded, the option of a permanent injunction becomes viable.
Another kind of court order that you can go for is damages. It basically means that you insist that you are financially compensated by the infringer for losing intellectual property rights due to their theft.
Finally, there is an account of profit. It is another kind of financial compensation order, where the IP thief has to pay you the amount of all the profits that they have made by infringing on your rights. This can be a great solution because the amount that you receive can be quite bigger than in the case of damages.
Legal consequences of IP theft
The fact is that IP theft has become a lot simpler in this day and age. Due to the damages that it can cause to a person/company, the penalties can be pretty harsh. In fact, while at first, the situation is a civil case of litigation against the infringer, if they don’t follow the court’s orders, it becomes a federal crime. This means that the infringer can be fined or imprisoned for a certain period that can amount to several years, their business can be shut down, and, as we have previously discussed, they might have to make up for all the financial damages and lost profits.
Handling an IP theft situation can get pretty ugly. Sometimes people take certain items such as photos or pieces of music and use it for themselves because they are unaware that they are committing a crime. This is when a cease and desist letter is certain to work, because they will understand the nature of their actions and do what you ask of them.
However, it is a lot more common that the infringer is an IP thief who has a very clear intention to steal your work and make a profit off of it. This is when you need to lawyer up, take to court, and fight for what is yours.
Bio: David Koller is a passionate blogger and copywriter for Media Gurus, mainly interested in SEO and Digital Marketing.