Worried about intellectual property theft? Read our quick guide to protect your IP from bad actors and to avoid infringing yourself
Words by Todd Bateman
Intellectual property theft: introduction
Are you a business concerned about intellectual property theft? You have come to the right place.
And, you are not alone!
Intellectual property theft is a common problem for businesses in the modern age.
Most contemporary businesses create loads of intangible assets and value each year.
It has never been more important to businesses to make sure that no one steals your data or big ideas. Nor do businesses want to find themselves at the end of a claim from someone else.
Because of this, it is important to make sure that measures are put in place to avoid intellectual property theft, wherever it may occur.
So businesses need to be both aware of:
- their own IP and stop other people from taking advantage of it themselves; and,
- the risk of committing IP theft themselves, and take active measures to avoid it
Sitting comfortably? Let's begin.
How to prevent theft of your intellectual property
There is a fairly simple process involved when it comes to preventing the theft of your intellectual property.
This process is as follows:
- Identify the IP that is important to you and your business
- Value the IP
- Set in place the correct systems, procedures and protection to make sure that it does not get stolen
- If stolen, enforce your intellectual property rights through the law
Identify your IP
The first step is to identify what IP you have. All businesses have a host of intangible assets which broadly cover the unique know-how, reputation, and information that exists within their business.
An IP discovery/audit exercise can often help businesses identify their key assets whether it might be their: inventions, designs, content, databases, procedures, brands, data, unique processes (and lots more).
By reaching a clear understanding of what the most important IP is within a business, a business owner is then in the best position to prevent its theft or general escape from the business.
Value your IP
The next step is to place a valuation on IP. Many businesses fail to view IP as an asset in the traditional sense and in doing so do not place a monetary value against it.
Many forms of IP valuation and audit can be helpful in this regard. Companies like Inngot can help businesses do this
A quick and easy exercise to help you understand the value of an IP asset is to imagine either:
- What it would cost you commercially if your competitor could use the asset (e.g. if your competitor had access to your business plan and client list)
- What it would cost you if you were entirely unable to use the asset, and had to start from scratch (e.g. having to rebrand)
With a value in mind, you begin to understand how important it is to stop IP theft, and in particular a proportionate amount of resources that you should consider deploying in doing so.
Systematize and Register your IP
The best way you can prevent IP theft is by ensuring that your IP has the correct protection.
This means registering your rights where relevant (patents, trademarks and registered design rights). Doing so will give you comfort knowing even if someone was to use your IP, it would just end up in you coming out better off should a dispute arise as you have a stronger right.
There are a host of unregistered rights also which often come into play. These include passing off (for unregistered brands) and unregistered design rights (for designs) as well as copyright.
Copyright can’t be registered in the UK, so making evidence of the creation of your copyright will be your best chance of securing it. We have a dedicated blog on how to protect your intellectual property, click here to learn more about each IP right.
In addition to this, have contracts with employees taht reference IP, agreements with 3rd parties, and training and procedures in place to make sure that your key IP assets are retained within your business.
Enforce your IP
Ideally, enforcement will not be required, however, for most businesses with innovative ideas some kind of dispute is inevitable.
Simply put, success puts a target on your back and bad actors will undertake a number of different activities to piggyback off your success.
If the above activities have been completed you will be in the best position to act to enforce IP rights.
Registered rights such as the above gives you a far greater ability to stop infringers in their tracks.
Should you be in a position where a dispute is occurring, contact an IP solicitor when you can to discuss a solution pathway.
How to sue for intellectual property theft
If you believe someone has stolen your IP it's time to act.
Start with building up all the evidence of the theft and document it.
You mustn’t inform the suspect you are building evidence against them just yet. This is because if they are made aware, they may begin covering their tracks which can make it more difficult to claim.
In addition, any notification or threat of litigation that is made incorrectly can result in a counterclaim.
Once you have collected your evidence, check that the IP they have stolen is, indeed, theft and not fair use. If you are unsure be careful not to make any rash decisions.
Contact an IP solicitor, they will be able to compile your case quickly with the evidence you have built up and send a cease-and-desist letter to the theft. The lawyer will be able to inform you on how much you can sue for damages.
Are you interested in knowing if IP theft is a criminal charge? Visit our FAQ here to see what you can claim if you’re a victim of IP theft.
How intellectual property theft impacts cybersecurity
Many businesses have to protect essential data, such as client and employee information as well as their IP.
They also have to protect trade secrets to keep an edge in the market.
In an online world, data can be the new oil and as such, there is an overlap between IP and cybersecurity.
So how does IP theft affect cybersecurity?
Businesses have to be extra vigilant in their cybersecurity software and training to best minimise the chance of their data being stolen by hackers. In the modern age, cyberattacks are on the rise and they could leave your business vulnerable to your IP and data being stolen.
This may result in your key IP being stolen and suddenly widely deployed by bad actors. Or alternatively, offer bad actors the ability to pose as you and intercept business and revenue.
This could lead to your business suffering from reputational damage- causing a serious impact on your revenue.
There are several key steps to take in making sure your cybersecurity is well-tuned to protect your business from attacks. Here are some tips you could take:
- Training your staff in cybersecurity to ensure they are aware of the danger and don’t commit to actions that could lead to a cyber-attack
- Improving and investing in better cybersecurity systems that provide the security needed to protect your essential data and IP
- Contact IP solicitors, they can help you look over your IP and check that you are covered from all angles of attack via a risk assessment and priority report
How to avoid an intellectual property theft claim
This post has focused mainly on how to stop other people from stealing your IP. However, it is equally important to make sure that you are not inadvertently committing IP theft yourself.
Typically stopping this can be achieved in the beginning stages of an IP review within a business.
Education is important in order to identify risks that may be present, as well as through training throughout the lifecycle of the business.
Key things to look out for are:
- Having a brand or product closely inspired by something already within the marketplace
- Creating content or collateral based on material already available online
- Leaving a business and then setting up a similar business using knowledge or information from a previous job
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ABOUT VIRTUOSO LEGAL?
Virtuoso Legal is a team of intellectual property specialists based in Leeds and London - operating worldwide. Virtuoso Legal's team of IP experts have successfully tried cases in the IPEC, High Court, Court of Appeals and United Kingdom Supreme Court. In addition, the team assist companies in creating, commercialising and protecting the big ideas that make their business unique. The firm and its professionals are ranked yearly in legal directories such as the Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners, cementing their status as a Top 2% law firm in the world.
Disclaimer: This FAQ should not be construed as legal advice on any specific facts. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only. You are urged to consult your own solicitor on any specific legal questions you may have. To get in touch with our team for intellectual property support click here.