Intellectual property is one of the most important aspects of businesses since it comprises ideas that are unique to a company. These can be things either copyrighted or trademarked. And that IP might also be a trade secret that a business needs to protect its livelihood.
What happens if this intellectual property is infringed? Stolen IP is a serious crime and requires some legal knowledge to navigate. This is where a good legal team comes into play.
Take a look at what you need to do if your intellectual property was recently stolen so you can take legal control of your ideas.
Gather as much evidence as possible
The stealing of intellectual property has stronger protection than ever thanks to many federal and state laws. You have the law on your side if you discover one or more person stole your IP.
To take action against this crime, you first need to gather all evidence pointing to what happened. Much of this might be digital evidence if a website is using your IP without your consent. You may have other evidence through texts or emails that prove someone who once worked for your company perhaps breached a trade secret NDA that they signed.
Any paper evidence should also be gathered and preserved in a safe place. Your legal team can do this for you so it’s safe to prevent loss.
Something else to gather is the investigative steps that you took to uncover the intellectual property crime. Hiring investigators to find out how your IP was stolen may have numerous steps involved from gathering digital evidence to doing surveillance on a competitor. All of this should be preserved and presented to your legal team. They’ll present it to law enforcement if or when a trial occurs.
Ask the person or company to stop using your IP
Once you have undeniable evidence that your intellectual property is being used illegally by someone, you have further options to get it to stop. To start, you can simply ask the individual to stop using your IP.
This may not initially work. If it doesn’t, you need a legal team working for you to send a cease and desist letter to the offending party. As the USPTO reminds, though, sending such a letter doesn’t mean that you’ll have to sue at this time. Cease and desist letters should have a time limit to respond so you can take further legal action if there is no response.
For digital intellectual property theft, you have the Digital Millennium Copyright Act on your side. Use of this law allows you to send a similar cease and desist letter to the owners of websites using your stolen ideas. These are also known as “takedown notices.”
Finding these infringers is sometimes more complicated, yet it can be done using sources like WHOIS and going through private registrations. In the chance these fail, your legal team can work to get a federal court order for a service provider to turn over the name of the infringer.
The laws on your side
Various federal laws are available your legal team can use to help you win an intellectual property infringement case. Before you can use those laws, however, you need to prove your IP is trademarked or copyrighted.
Your lawsuit might be a civil case or a criminal complaint. Either way, you have federal laws like The Trademark Counterfeiting Act that can send an infringer to prison for up to ten years, plus a $2 million fine.
Counterfeit labeling laws can also imprison an infringer up to five years and a $250,000 fine. Of course, copyright infringement laws are known by most people. Imprisonment for violating a copyright can go up to three years and fines in the multiple thousands of dollars.