Stolen ideas are hardly a new trend in the business world. Whether it’s a stolen song lyric, software feature, or clothing design, many companies have seen competitors profit from stolen products or ideas. Although intellectual property theft may seem intangible, there is plenty of risk and loss involved, especially for small businesses. Even in one year, intellectual property loss can reach up to $600 billion in the U.S.
Quite often, ideas are stolen from smaller businesses and are reproduced at scale by larger organizations. All too often, niche clothing designers, artists, and other creative companies have their work stolen by more recognizable brands.
If you believe one of your ideas has been stolen, you’re not alone. Fortunately, there are ways that you can fight back against stolen property to reclaim your ideas.
Reach Out Directly to the Offending Party
If you believe your ideas have been stolen, one of the first things you can do is reach out to the offending party. Notify them that you believe they have infringed on your ideas, and be sure to document your communication with them.
Sometimes, simply reaching out to the offending company can save you the trouble of a court case. You may also be able to reach a royalty agreement or settlement with the company responsible for stealing your idea, allowing your business to profit from its actions.
It’s also possible that the theft was an accident. Given how hard it is to avoid trademark infringement — especially in competitive industries — offending companies may not even realize they have stolen your ideas. Once you open a line of communication with them, there’s a chance that they recognize their mistake and return your property.
After sending a cease and desist letter, give the offending individual or company time to respond. If they are compliant with your request, you’ll be free to move on. If they choose to ignore your communication, you may need to consider legal action as an option.
Pursue Legal Action
If you cannot settle the issue with the offending party out of court, legal action may be necessary. Before pursuing IP theft in court, make sure that your work is registered. You can only reclaim damages from ideas that are registered. Register your trademark as soon as possible, or expedite the registration process by purchasing an already-created trademark from a verified owner.
In addition to your registered trademark, prepare your evidence that the offending party has damaged your brand or business through IP theft. The following articles can be used as proof in court:
- Documentation showing sales losses;
- Records indicating the methodology used by the offending party to obtain your intellectual property;
- Pictures, screenshots, web addresses, or other proof that the offending party was familiar with your property before stealing it;
- Profit reports indicating that the offending party has benefitted from your ideas;
- Any other calculations that indicate when and how the theft took place, and how exactly that theft has injured your company.
As a business owner or representative, make sure you have a basic understanding of IP law before your case begins. If the court decides in your favor after you present convincing evidence, you may be entitled to recouped losses and repaid court fees.
Legal action can also help you secure an injunction against any offending parties. An injunction will ultimately prevent any individual or company from using your intellectual property and can yield stiff penalties if the infringement continues.
How To Prevent IP Theft
Of course, you can always avoid legal action entirely by seeking out prevention methods as you produce intellectual property. To prevent hackers, criminals, and other industry competitors from obtaining your company’s property, make sure you set up appropriate trademarks. In addition, set strong passwords and monitor online activity for any suspicious or unexpected behavior.
Register Your Trademark
Registering a company trademark is one of the easiest ways to prevent IP theft. First, make sure you search through existing trademarks to ensure that your ideas are unique. Next, you’ll need to submit a trademark application — one that includes specific details on the property you want to protect.
Trademark applications aren’t typically answered right away. Usually trademark applications take about four months before you receive a response, and lately the wait time has been six months or more. Once your trademark is approved, you’ll be able to operate with full IP protection.
During the trademark process, you’ll need to know the difference between ® and ™ to refer to your products appropriately. Until your property has been fully trademarked, you can only use the ™ suffix. This symbol indicates that your property is not yet registered. Once your property is fully registered as a trademark, you can begin to use the ® suffix.
Purchase Similar Trademarks
For added security, you can also purchase trademarks that are similar to the property you’re looking to protect. Purchasing similar trademarks can help you further protect your ideas so that competitors can’t use nearly identical ideas to your own.
Many companies will obtain similar trademarks if they’re concerned about naming rights or intellectual property infringement. You might adopt a similar approach if your company operates with a proprietary process or any other element that differentiates you from the competition in your consumers’ eyes.