Intellectual Property Theft: Charges, Penalties & Defense

Intellectual property theft

Have you or has a loved one been charged with intellectual property theft?

The concept of intellectual property theft might not be the first crime that comes to your mind when you think of theft. However, with the rise of digital technology, intellectual property theft has become a growing issue. The cases for intellectual property theft are complex.

What is Intellectual Property Theft?

This type of crime involves robbing people or companies of their ideas, inventions, and creative expressions that are protected under intellectual’s property laws such as copyright, trademark, patent, or trade secrete laws.

Examples can include: products and parts, movies, music, software, client lists, poems, and logos.

The theft is not always clear cut. A case can be confusing.

For example, in 1994, Adidas and Payless ShoeSource Inc. got into a disagreement over the stripes on the athletic shoes that Payless was selling. Adidas used its three-stripe mark as a logo since 1952, but Payless was selling a similar looking shoe with two and four parallel stripes.

While Payless was not using the exact Adidas brand, Adidas brought Payless to court. The trial lasted seven years. In the end, Adidas was awarded $305 million.

Intellectual Property Penalties

An intellectual property theft crime falls under the category of a white collar crime. Penalties for white collar crimes such as intellectual property theft can have a wide-range of punishment depending on the details of the crime. The penalty can be lighter if the defendant takes responsibility for the crime and assists in the investigation.

According to the FBI.gov:

“Preventing intellectual property theft is a priority of the FBI’s criminal investigative program. It specifically focuses on the theft of trade secrets and infringements on products that can impact consumers’ health and safety, such as counterfeit aircraft, car, and electronic parts. Key to the program’s success is linking the considerable resources and efforts of the private sector with law enforcement partners on local, state, federal, and international levels.”

Specific legal consequences for intellectual property theft can be harsh. In many cases, intellectual property theft is charged as a federal crime.

Examples of Intellectual Property Theft

There are many forms of intellectual property theft. Trade secret theft is one. The following is a list of some others along with their penalties if someone can prove you engaged in these crimes:

Stealing someone else’s trademark

If you use someone else’s trademark you could spend up to 10 years in prison and get fined up to $2 million.

Selling counterfeit drugs

You could pay up to $5 million in fines and spend up to 20 years in prison if you counterfeit drugs for sale.

Trafficking counterfeit military goods or services

According to the U.S. legal code 18 U.S.C. § 2320, this is goods or services knowing that such good or service is a counterfeit military good or service involving:

  • the use,
  • malfunction,
  • or failure of which is likely to cause serious bodily injury or death,
  • the disclosure of classified information,
  • impairment of combat operations,
  • or other significant harm to a combat operation, a member of the Armed Forces, or to national security.

If convicted, you could end up spending 20 years in prison and paying $5 million.

Counterfeit labeling

Counterfeit labeling could be labels affixed to books, movies, music, software, visual art or anything else related.

You could face up to 5 years in prison and pay up to $250,000 in fines if convicted of counterfeit labeling.

Violating copyright laws

Violating copyright laws is copying someone else’s protected work – like music. Just the act of doing this is a felony that has a three-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine.

If it can be proved that you gained financially from the theft, the prison sentence could be up to 10 years.

However, it has to be shown that you distributed at least ten copies of a copyrighted work valued at over $2,500.

Pre-release copyright infringement is theft of a work that hasn’t yet been released to the public. It’s a felony with penalties of up to 3 years in prison and $250,000 in fines

Recording a movie in a theater is a felony, although the term “camcording” is probably a little bit dated. You could face $250,000 in fines and up to 3 years in prison.

A person charged with this crime can expect to face: criminal fines, prison time, seizure of the stolen property, loss of business license, and civil charges filed by the victim of the crime.

Intellectual Property Theft Defense

Intellectual property theft is hard to prosecute. So much of it happens online and crosses international borders that it’s hard to tell who is perpetrating the theft.

There are more than 20 agencies involved in investigating intellectual property theft internationally. However, it sometimes takes many years to prove a case and get someone convicted of IP theft, as federal attorneys must have extensive evidence of the theft to prove it.

If you are facing charges related to intellectual property theft, know that a strong defense can be made for you. There are a number of key factors that can play a role in your defense.

For example, understanding your intent or lack of intent is critical. As a defendant, did you knowingly attempt to steal the property and use personally?

Another key question that will be investigated is the actual ownership of the material. Were they protected under intellectual property laws?

To recap,

  • Lack of intent, meaning the person did not know he was committing intellectual property theft or intend to use it for personal gain.
  • The Fair Use clause can be invoked to prove the defendant intended to use copyrighted material for educational purposes.

Michigan Intellectual Property Defense Attorney

If you are being investigated or have been charged with a crime related to intellectual property theft, it is important to speak with an experienced federal defense attorney. When it comes to charges related to intellectual property laws, they can be complex, and the punishments can be harsh.

If you are facing intellectual property theft charges, you need an experienced federal criminal lawyer to help navigate the intricacies of this type of case. Depending on the details of your case, a strong defense can be made. Call my office today.

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