Intellectual property is any material or idea that is protected by copyright, trademark, patent, or trade secret laws. This type of property includes client lists, poems, mechanical inventions, and logos. Intellectual property theft occurs when a person knowingly takes, uses, misappropriates, or otherwise steals property that is protected under intellectual property laws.
Since there are many different types of intellectual property, there are many variations of intellectual property theft. An example of intellectual property theft is where a person knowingly copies a company’s logo and uses it on their own items without the company’s consent. Another example is where an employee takes a company’s secret food recipe and uses it to create their own food product.
Intellectual property laws prescribe harsh penalties for intellectual property theft. In most cases, intellectual property theft and infringement violations are charged as federal crimes. They can result in consequences such as:
- Criminal fines
- Imprisonment for several years, depending on the nature of the charges
- Seizure of the stolen property, documents, or materials
- Loss or suspension of a business operating license
- Civil charges filed by the victim of the crime (for instance, for lost business profits)
Defenses to intellectual property theft include:
- Lack of intent – The defendant did not knowingly attempt to steal the intellectual property and use it for their personal gain
- Lack of ownership rights by the plaintiff – The material was not actually protected by intellectual property laws)
- “Unclean hands” – The plaintiff has engaged in a wrongdoing by bringing a lawsuit in this manner against the defendant at the time, such as knowing about the infringement for a long time but choosing not to sue the defendant until years after learning about the defendant’s first act of infringement
Other, more technical defenses may also exist for certain cases. For instance, a “fair use” defense may allow the defendant to avoid liability if their use of a copyrighted item was used for an educational purpose, such as showing a copyrighted documentary to a high school history class. These types of cases can be highly complex and may require the assistance of an attorney and/or a products specialist.
Intellectual property laws can be complex, and can also impose some very strict penalties for violations. If you have any questions, concerns, or disputes, you may wish to hire an intellectual property attorney in your area. Your lawyer can help explain how the laws might be affecting your case. In the event that you need to file a lawsuit for damages, or if you need to make an appearance for trial, your attorney can represent you during court hearings.