How to Deal with Intellectual Property Theft

What is Intellectual Property?

Your intellectual property is your intangible asset, i.e. the fruits of your creativity, ideas, and intelligence. It could be a personal recipe, methodology, brand name, logo, slogan, design, or any private content.

There are several ways in which your intellectual property can be managed and protected. Besides the obvious things like filing a copyright or trademarking a name, hiring the services of an estate planning lawyer is a lesser-known method to manage this kind of property. This is because such a resource would be charged with monitoring your IP to spot whenever it has been infringed upon and take immediate steps to seek the appropriate redress.

Four Types of Intellectual Property:

  • Copyright – original art/literature, software, pictures/photographs, music, etc.
  • Trademark – word, name, or symbol that represents your product/service
  • Patent – a grant issued by a government that gives you exclusive rights for making, using, selling, or importing an invention/creation
  • Trade Secret – confidential information/data that is vital to your business

How to Safeguard your Intellectual Property?

You obviously put a lot of hard work, thought, and effort into creating your intellectual property, so it is fair that you would want to ensure that it is not improperly used by someone else without your permission, or worse, that such person benefits financially from it without compensating you. You must, therefore, take all necessary steps to protect your work; otherwise, chances are that a third party will take advantage of your work and reap benefits where none is due.

Some intellectual property rights are automatic, but registration is the best way to legally own your thing. When your concept/object is registered, you claim on it becomes public, so anyone will think twice before misusing it.

By registering a trademark, you get to flaunt the illustrious ‘R’ symbol, which accentuates its validity. When you get your merchandise patented, your competitors will refrain from imitating because eventually, they will have to back off or pay for it.  Similarly, copyrighting your material gives you sole authority and the right to sue infringers. Your precautionary measures need to solid, in case you need to demonstrate them in court; legitimate evidence of ownership will support your defense. Maintain or renew documentation where applicable.

I advise you to seek legal assistance if you realize the seriousness of the matter and wish to protect your intellectual assets immediately. Also, keep in mind that you must file for patent protection within one year of releasing your product/formulation into the open. If you are planning to launch your invention on an international level, you may have to register in all other countries as well. Every country has separate laws, so you might have to adjust your marketing plan accordingly; some nations will make the process easier and some will complicate things.

The principal approach to shielding your intellectual property is by keeping it under wraps. Do not speak about it outside the ‘safe zone’ and make sure it is not accessible to people you cannot trust. Not everything can be patented and trade secret laws may not function at your convenience. Anyone who is acquainted with the ‘confidential item’ must sign a nondisclosure agreement.

Handling a Breach of Intellectual Property

As the proprietor of intellectual property, it is your duty to monitor the market field and keep an eye on contenders or potential rivals. You may not discover property infringement if you do not look out for competitive products out there. Once you discover that someone has been using your concept without permission, do not rush to take legal action. You shall first directly communicate with your thief and request that they discontinue the illicit practice; this usually works because small-scale companies cannot afford a lawsuit. Nonetheless, if they do not listen or refuse to stop, go ahead and consider taking the matter to court.

The regulations for patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets vary and are likely to cause confusion. Sometimes, suing right away is not the smartest idea, so credible legal advice is necessary to take the right step. Intellectual property theft may or may not be considered as criminal activity; an experienced business lawyer can evaluate and notify your options or devise the best course of action. If your offender is exploiting exclusive content on the internet, you can make use of DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act); the act helps you reclaim assets by taking down the content from third-party sites or restricting their presence.

Although it is rare, your thief might produce his/her own patent in response to your complaint. When you have no doubt that their patent infringes yours, you can report to USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office). A patent examiner looks into the matter and you will receive reimbursement if your assertions are correct.

Most cases of intellectual property breach are subject to Federal court, but unregistered or partially registered goods are often handled at State court. Your case could be civil or criminal, depending on the category or depth of violation. If you win, you will receive one or more of the following benefits:

  • Compensation for losses
  • The offender is banned from using your intellectual property in the future and shall remove relative content/merchandise that is currently available in the market
  • Right to all or a fraction of profits earned by the offender on the basis of your intellectual property
  • Coverage for legal expenses

A Few Famous Intellectual Property Disputes

  1. In 2011, a small Canadian company, i4i, filed a lawsuit against Microsoft for infringing its patents. Microsoft tried to invalidate the claims by calling them a joke, but the small company remained grounded and won the case with practical evidence; they retrieved $290 million as compensation charges.
  2. National Biscuit Company sued Kellogg’s for marketing a cereal that was the same as ‘shredded whole wheat cereal’ invented by their predecessor. The court ruled in favor of Kellogg’s because the patents had expired and the term ‘shredded wheat’ was not deemed valid for trademarking.
  3. In the industry of footwear, Adidas requested a jury trial against Payless for using stripes on their shoes. The three-stripe mark of Adidas was registered as a trademark, while Payless was using two or four parallel stripes. The trial lasted seven years and Adidas came out victorious, receiving reimbursement of $305 million.
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