Battling Intellectual Property Thieves

By Shane Caniglia  |  Posted 2012-08-22

By Shane Caniglia

According to Francis Gurry, World Intellectual Property Organization director general, and the World Intellectual Property Report 2011, today’s firms are investing “historically unprecedented amounts in the creation of intangible assets—new ideas, technologies, designs, brands, organizational know-how and business models.”

In addition, the report states that international royalty and licensing fee revenue increased from $2.8 billion in 1970 to approximately $180 billion in 2009. Plus, “patent and trademark filings grew by 7.2 percent and 11.8 percent, respectively, in 2010,” and “the total number of 1.98 million patent applications worldwide was an all-time high.”

In today’s global economy, intellectual property (IP) is the key to competitive advantage and growth. And this makes it enticing to thieves. In fact, The United States International Trade Commission recently reported that “a record number of new intellectual property-related investigations were filed at the USITC during FY 2011.”

What can you do to decrease your risk of IP theft? You can file patents, copyrights and trademarks, but that won’t necessarily stop thieves from stealing your IP online. You can pursue litigation to go after crooks and remedy the situation, but that can cost hundreds of hours and thousands (or even millions) of dollars.

With this in mind, here are some steps you can take to protect your company’s intellectual property. You must be proactive! If you haven’t already done so, work with your legal team to create processes and documentation that will help protect your IP right away.

Create a nondisclosure agreement.
Unfortunately, the days of trusting a simple handshake to seal the deal are over. Today, it’s essential to have everyone you work with—employees, consultants, sponsors, vendors, even friends and family members)—sign a legal, nondisclosure agreement. This way, everyone knows what is confidential and what the ramifications are for disclosing information.

In addition, it’s important to mark your print and online content with appropriate, copyright notifications to show that you own the information.

Search for perpetrators.
Design a process to search for and identify potential infringers on a daily or weekly basis. Assign dedicated individuals on your technology, marketing and legal teams to search for IP infringement issues related to your copyrights, patents, trademarks, trade secrets, images, brand and more.

While there are many services and tools that will conduct extensive online searches for you, your process may be as simple as searching for keywords using search engines such as Google Alerts, Google Images, Yahoo, Bing and others.

You will also want your team members to monitor social media activities and site analytics. Here are some questions to ask:

  • What is going on via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and more?
  • Are there imposters using your IP?
  • Where are your referrals coming from?
  • Who is linking to your site?

Look for strange increases in your visitors, incoming links, comments and more. Then, be sure to quickly check anything that seems out of the ordinary.

Report findings.

Have a process in place for reporting IP issues, and ensure that your entire staff knows about it and what they need to do. If anyone in your organization sees something strange going on in relation to the use of your content, images, brand, etc., he or she should report it immediately. Then, your organization can take the necessary steps to end the infringement as soon as possible.

You may even want to have your legal team share reports about IP findings and current trends via monthly newsletters, emails, Webinars or in-person staff meetings. By educating everyone in your organization about the importance and costs of IP infringement, you can increase your defenses and reaction time to these issues significantly.

Someone will go after your IP.

The latest Internet World Stats indicate that the Internet has grown 528.1 percent from 2000 to 2011, and there are 2,267,233,742 Internet users worldwide. According to Chipworks, a patent infringement analysis company, “U.S. patent litigations hit an all-time high of just over 4,000 cases in 2011.”

With the growth of the Internet and today’s global economic roller coaster, online thieves are searching for ways to make money, and they’ll take your IP to do so. If it hasn’t happened yet, trust me, it will.

So what are you going to do stop these people from stealing your hard-earned content, brand and, most important, your company’s reputation and credibility?

If you haven’t already done so, meet with your legal team to create a nondisclosure agreement and have all pertinent parties sign it. Create processes and designate teams to monitor your IP online and report findings on a regular basis.

Protecting your intellectual property is not just about your legal department. It’s an organizationwide process that involves everyone, so take action now to avoid costly issues and keep thieves from stealing your hard-earned success.

For more information, check out the U.S. Copyright Office at and the United States Trademark and Patent Office at

Shane Caniglia is the director of technology for Rich Dad, a brand based on Robert Kiyosaki's best-seller, Rich Dad Poor Dad. The Rich Dad Company offers different ways to think about money and investing. Shane can be reached at