You are currently viewing What is Intellectual Property Theft?

What is Intellectual Property Theft?

Intellectual Property (IP) theft is an unlawful act of stealing, duplicating, or misappropriating ideas, inventions, trade secrets, and other creations of the mind that hold commercial value. Both tangible and intangible assets, from proprietary industrial processes to customer databases, are targets for these thefts. The perpetrators might be competitors, hackers, or even current and former employees. As technology advances, so do the methods of IP theft, escalating the need for robust prevention strategies to safeguard a company’s competitive edge. This document aims to shed light on the various aspects of IP theft, highlighting preventative measures, the importance of stringent access management, and the potential consequences of a data breach.

Types of Intellectual Property Theft

Copying and Illegal Distribution – This involves reproducing copyrighted material without permission, such as books, music, movies, and software. It can also include sharing or distributing these materials through file-sharing networks or online platforms.

Trademark Infringement – This occurs when someone uses a trademark, logo, or brand name without authorization to mislead consumers and profit from the confusion.

Patent Infringement – This involves the unauthorized use, manufacture, or sale of a patented invention.

Trade Secret Theft – This refers to stealing confidential and proprietary information from a company for personal gain or to give an unfair advantage to competitors.

Effects of Intellectual Property Theft

Impact on Businesses – Intellectual property theft can have a significant impact on businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises. It affects their profitability, competitiveness, and innovation capabilities.

Effect on Economy – Intellectual property theft not only affects individual businesses but also the overall economy. It can result in job losses, decreased tax revenue, and stifle economic growth.

Loss of Innovation – Intangible assets like patents and trade secrets are essential for innovation and advancement in various industries. When they are stolen or misused, it can discourage companies from investing in research and development.

Preventing Intellectual Property Theft

Legal Consequences – Companies can take legal action against perpetrators of IP theft by filing lawsuits or reporting to law enforcement authorities. This approach can act as a deterrent for future thefts.

Intellectual Property Rights Management – It is crucial for businesses to identify and protect their valuable assets through patents, trademarks, and copyrights. This can help prevent accidental or intentional theft by competitors.

Access Management – Restricting access to sensitive information within the company is another effective way of preventing IP theft. Proper access management ensures only authorized employees have access to critical data.

Training Employees – Companies should educate their employees about the importance of intellectual property and the potential consequences of theft. This can help create a culture of respect for IP within the organization.

Data Encryption – Encrypting sensitive data is also an effective way to safeguard against IP theft. Even if the information is stolen, it will be unreadable and unusable without the encryption key.

Examples of Intellectual Property Theft

Nortel Networks Incident: This Canadian telecommunication company fell victim to a sophisticated hacking operation, presumably initiated by state-sponsored actors. They infiltrated Nortel’s systems and had access to sensitive information, including trade secrets and intellectual properties, for almost a decade. This significant data breach contributed to Nortel’s bankruptcy in 2009, underscoring the devastating impact of IP theft.

The Google v. Uber Case: The dispute between Google’s self-driving subsidiary, Waymo, and Uber is a high-profile example of alleged trade secret theft. Waymo accused Anthony Levandowski, a former Waymo employee who later started working for Uber, of stealing trade secrets related to their autonomous vehicle technology. The case, which was settled in 2018, highlighted the threats posed by employee mobility and the potential for IP theft.

Starwood Hotels Data Breach: In one of the largest data breaches in history, the personal data of approximately 500 million guests was stolen from Starwood Hotels’ reservation system in 2018. While this case primarily involved personal data, it’s a potent reminder of the broader risks organizations face in securing sensitive data, including intellectual property.

These cases underscore the need for robust IP protection measures and the potential consequences of failing to adequately safeguard valuable intellectual assets.


In this age of information and technology, Intellectual Property (IP) theft has emerged as a pervasive concern for organizations worldwide. It’s not just about protecting patents, trademarks, and copyrights, but also about safeguarding trade secrets and other proprietary information that form the bedrock of a company’s competitive advantage. The damaging effects of IP theft can be far-reaching, impacting businesses, stifling innovation, and hindering economic growth. Therefore, it’s crucial for companies to adopt a proactive stance, implementing stringent access management, educating employees, and employing data encryption among other measures to deter potential intellectual property theft. The series of high-profile incidents we’ve reviewed demonstrate the dire consequences of inadequate IP protection, emphasizing the importance of this issue in today’s interconnected world.

For more information, please contact Arlen Olsen at Schmeiser, Olsen & Watts LLP at