In this era of digital information and rapid technological advancement, safeguarding your intellectual creations is more crucial than ever. Yet, with great innovation comes the risk of others trying to capitalize on your achievements. Intellectual property theft is a silent enemy lurking in the shadows, but with the right knowledge, you and your company can guard against it.
The Gastonia, NC, intellectual property lawyers of Mullen, Holland & Cooper can help you protect your company’s trade secrets and punish those who attempt to steal them.
What Does ‘Intellectual Property’ Mean?
Intellectual property, sometimes called IP, refers to a person or company’s unique ideas, processes, or products. These original concepts and innovations often have tangible or potential value for the creators or businesses. There are four primary categories of intellectual property, each serving a specific purpose:
- Patents: These protect inventions and discoveries, ensuring that the innovator has exclusive rights to the product or process for a specified period, typically 20 years.
- Trademarks: Think of the iconic symbols, names, and slogans that immediately make you think of a brand or product. Trademarks protect these identifiers, ensuring that only the rightful owner can use them in commerce.
- Trade Secrets: Some information is too valuable to be shared. Trade secrets encompass formulas, processes, instruments, or any information that gives a business a competitive edge. Unlike patents, they can remain protected indefinitely as long as they remain confidential.
- Copyrights: When you pen a novel, compose a song, or create a painting, you’re generating a unique piece of art. Copyrights safeguard the rights of authors, artists, and creators, preventing unauthorized reproductions or adaptations of their works. Typically, a copyright lasts for the creator’s life plus 70 years.
Examples of Intellectual Property Theft
Intellectual property theft covers a wide range of actions and offenses, including:
- Counterfeiting: Producing fake goods and selling them under a brand name without permission
- Piracy: Illegally copying and distributing software, music, movies, or books without the necessary licenses or approvals
- Unauthorized Reproduction: Taking copyrighted material, like articles, photos, or artwork, and using them without the creator’s consent or proper licensing
- Misuse of Trade Secrets: Employees or ex-employees leaking or using confidential company information for personal gain or to benefit another company
- Patent Infringement: Manufacturing, selling, or using someone else’s patented invention without obtaining a license or permission
- Trademark Infringement: Using a logo, symbol, or brand name strikingly similar to another, causing potential confusion for consumers
- Reverse Engineering: Taking apart a product to understand how it works and creating a near-identical product
- Cybersquatting: Registering, trafficking in, or using a domain name with the intent to profit from someone else’s trademark
- Plagiarism: Using someone else’s work, like writings or ideas, and presenting it as your own without proper attribution
- Unauthorized Adaption: Taking copyrighted material and modifying it to create something new without permission, such as making a film based on a book without acquiring the rights
How to Report IP Theft in North Carolina
Under North Carolina’s Trade Secrets Protection Act and federal laws, IP theft is a severe crime, and offenders may face both criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits. If you believe a person or business has stolen or misused your intellectual property, the following agencies can help:
- The Department of Justice’s National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center
- The Intellectual Property Enforcement Program under the Bureau of Justice Assistance
- The S. Patent and Trademark Office
- The North Carolina Secretary of State’s Counterfeit Trademarks Enforcement agency
How We Can Help Protect Your IP
In North Carolina, safeguarding your intellectual property is a necessity. The Gastonia IP theft attorneys at Mullen, Holland & Cooper can provide valuable support in this area of the law. From drafting robust contracts to representing you in court, we can help ensure that your intellectual assets remain secure. Call us at (704) 864-6751 or reach out online for a consultation.