Is This Taken? Understanding Intellectual Property Theft

Whether you’re a business owner, artist, or consumer, intellectual property impacts you every single day. We constantly use patented technology, watch and listen to copyrighted material, and invent or learn of other people’s ideas. That’s why the theft of these intellectual properties can be so damaging to our global economy—these crimes affect us all.

Intellectual property spans a broad range of categories. Today, let’s narrow our focus to four different types: trademark, copyright, patents, and trade secrets.

If you’re a business owner, you are likely familiar with trademarks. These are specifically used by companies to protect their brands. You can trademark a name and/or logo so no one else can imitate the design and/or title of your business. If one company thinks your brand is too similar to theirs, you may receive a Cease and Desist letter. If this occurs, you’ll want to immediately seek out legal counsel to identify your options.

You may have already experienced this next type of intellectual property violation if you’ve ever had trouble posting a YouTube video with your favorite song: copyright infringement. As an example, YouTube takes copyright violations very seriously. For your own business, it’s a good idea to slap a copyright symbol on everything you’ve created. However, if you’ve been accused of infringing on someone else’s copyright, we recommend speaking to a lawyer immediately.

Sometimes, companies delegate the production of a copyrighted item to another, believing they still own the copyright. This may be an incorrect assumption and also speaks to the need for counsel when uncertain as to who is the correct copyright owner.

Like the other categories of intellectual property, patent law is highly complex and nuanced. Simply put, you do not necessarily qualify for a patent by merely generating an idea for an invention. Patents usually cover how something is made and specifically exclude others from copying your original protocol. This is an area of the law in which a lawyer can help defend you if you’re accused of patent theft.

The last category, so-called “trade secrets,” is loosely defined as sensitive, commercial information. These can include confidential business plans, products, proposals, and client rosters. If you have shared such sensitive information with others, either with or without the owner or employer’s knowledge, it’s important to seek legal counsel. The information could spread to those who will use it in a way to economically harm the owner, and federal prosecutors may seek to severely penalize you.

At the end of the day, it’s also important to recognize intellectual property theft can include piracy and counterfeiting, sometimes on a large scale. Since hackers can steal from any business, even replicating their entire model, you can see why this poses such a dire fiscal threat and why federal prosecutors take it so seriously.

Intellectual property theft can be costly and complex. Whether you leaked confidential information or copied a business idea, you need to contact an experienced lawyer who understands the nuances of intellectual property laws. Feel free to send me an email or call me at 714-381-1366.

Chase Geiser