When you have worked for a long time on an idea or product, having it stolen from you will be incredibly distressing. Intellectual property is not always easy to define, but in the law, it is required to be fixed in a tangible medium, i.e., you cannot claim someone stole an idea that existed in your mind unless you have memorialized the idea in writing and protected it accordingly. This article outlines what steps you can take when you believe that a person or company has stolen your intellectual property and how you can prevent it from happening in the future.
You can protect an idea with copyright when it has been fixed in a tangible medium, even if that just means that you have scribbled a poem or song lyrics on paper or produced art on the back of a food packet. The owner of that idea has certain rights to it, whether the US Copyright Office has legally protected it or not. The Copyright Office will protect “literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic,” such as “poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture”.
If you believe that a person has infringed on your copyright, your first course of action would be to send a cease-and-desist letter that states your ownership of said work, warning them that if they continue to infringe on your rights, you may take legal action. If they choose to ignore the letter, you may need to engage in intellectual property litigation with a legal firm like Hankin Patent Law. If you had copyright in place when the infringement took place (or registered within three months of the work being published), you might be entitled to financial compensation or damages.
Words, phrases, marks, or icons that can be used to identify a product or service can be protected by a trademark. To protect your intellectual property in this way, you will need to register the word, phrase, marks, or icons you will need to register it with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Once the trademark is in place, you can enforce your rights in the state that you do your business. However, you will need to show the court that you were using the trademark in that state before the infringer used it.
If you have invented a product, you should protect it with a patent from the USPTO as soon as possible. When you have patented an invention, you can take patent infringement legal action to stop others from benefitting from it and possibly pursue damages. The reason why patents should be filed as soon as possible is that the America Invents Act includes a “first to file” clause. Should someone else see your idea and patent it before you can, they would have legal rights to it.
A trade secret is proprietary information that is key to a product’s success. For example, it might be a recipe, a chemical formula, or the composition of a product that cannot be protected by one of the other intellectual property laws. The best way to protect a trade secret is to ensure your business’ IT systems, communications, and physical premises are secure. If you can prove that someone has stolen a trade secret, you may be able to take legal action to stop them from publicizing or using it to their own benefit.
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