Intellectual Property Theft

Helping organisations cyber secure their assets

What is Intellectual Property Theft

Intellectual property theft, more commonly known as IP theft, is a growing concern in today’s digital space. From geopolitical threats and economic impacts to trademark and copyright infringements, these concerns and more have increased awareness of intellectual property rights protection.

Types of Intellectual Property Theft

Intellectual property theft has become increasingly complex as more and more assets are digitised and accessible online. Still, many types of IP theft remain a constant threat, whether in digital or physical forms.

As one of the most common forms of IP theft across different industries and sectors, copyright infringement refers to the unauthorised use, distribution, or duplication of a creative work protected by copyright law. This includes software, music, films, books, and other creative works.

Cases involving copyright infringement are as wide-ranging as the types of media and assets infringed upon. There are countless examples of copyright infringement, from pirating software, downloading paid media for free, or replicating literary textbooks without permission.

As a form of intellectual property that shapes a brand’s identity, trademarks are recognisable logos, symbols, names, or phrases that legally identify particular goods and services. Protected by IP law, trademarks are intended to distinguish certain products or services of one entity from those of others, thereby differentiating counterfeits and knockoffs.

Trademark infringement occurs when these protected identity elements are used without a license or authorisation. The most common scenario involves selling counterfeit products under a well-known brand name or mimicking a similar brand logo without permission. However, these cases have become increasingly sophisticated, with organisations prioritising international trademark protection against foreign threats.

Patent infringement is another prevalent issue that muddies the global marketplace waters. This type of IP breach involves targeting a manufacturing process, design blueprint, or other types of intelligence that document the making and selling of a product.

Synonymous with knockoff products, off-brand manufacturers produce a close replica of the original patented product to poach sales on the coattails of a successful brand. Like trademarks and copyrights, only goods with a filed patent are protected against infringement. Even early-stage innovators, startups, and entrepreneurs should consider protecting assets from these potential IP infringements.

Trade secret theft is the unauthorised use, disclosure, or acquisition of confidential business information that drives a company’s competitive advantage. This type of intellectual property theft includes stealing information like product development and manufacturing processes, research protocols, customer lists, and other strategic intel integral to the business.

Examples of trade secret theft include a company’s executive team purchasing confidential data stolen from a competitor. Another scenario is when a freelance contractor signs a confidentiality agreement with a company but later sells that company’s trade secrets to a competitor. In the digital economy, every widget, plugin, app, system, or script – especially successful ones – is a high-interest target among attackers.

Similar to trademark infringement but more brand identity-focused, design infringement involves the unauthorised replication of an original design, layout, or visual artwork that identifies a product protected under intellectual property laws.

This can include protected designs such as a product’s consumer packaging, a particular clothing cut, or industrial designs. In the consumer packaged goods space, food and beverage manufacturers use unique packaging like oddly shaped bottles and in-store displays to market and differentiate their products.

Common Causes and Culprits of Intellectual Property Theft

The range of people and parties participating in IP theft is becoming increasingly sophisticated. Some of the most common culprits associated with IP theft include: 

To gain a competitive advantage, industry rivals are often interested in stealing IP from their competitors, especially dominant players. They may use various methods to acquire valuable intelligence and competitive insight, including corporate espionage, hacking, or insider theft.

Employees, contractors, freelancers, and other insiders are common culprits responsible for IP theft. These individuals have access to sensitive information, like password databases or trade secrets, and steal these assets for personal gain or to sell to competitors. Sometimes, they’re also coerced or bribed by outsiders.

Cyber criminals are another common culprit of IP theft. These actors target companies or individuals to steal valuable information, such as credit card numbers, confidential information, or customer data. Hackers use a variety of methods, including phishing scams, malware, or social engineering tactics.

Organised crime groups, cyber terrorists, and other threat actors may also be involved in IP theft, especially against businesses, governments, and infrastructure organisations. Threat actors often engage in direct data theft, phishing, vulnerability exploitation, or spreading malware.

Individual employees sometimes steal intellectual property from their employers, either for personal gain or that of a competitor or foreign parties. This includes stealing process documentation, trade secrets, customer lists, or other sensitive information.

How to Prevent IP Theft and Mitigate Damages

Preventing intellectual property theft and mitigating damages has become a high priority for organisations, especially high-profile brands, tech companies, and governmental agencies. Some of the preventative practices involve:

Ensure that only authorised personnel can access confidential information. Use proper cybersecurity protocols, such as multi factor authentication and encryption, to safeguard sensitive data.

Conduct regular audits to identify gaps or vulnerabilities in your IP protection strategy and ensure they’re addressed to avoid exploitation.

Apply to have your intellectual property filed and registered with the relevant authorities and establish legal ownership to prevent others from mimicking your ideas without permission.

Leverage technologies like firewalls, anti-virus software, and other professional cybersecurity measures to protect your network and devices from data breaches and cyber-attacks.

Whenever possible, use non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) as a layer of protection when sharing sensitive and confidential information with employees and outside parties.

Keep an eye on your competitors and watch for any suspicious activity or infringement on your intellectual property, such as knockoff product replicas.

Train your employees on the importance of protecting intellectual property and how to identify common cyber threats, particularly around IP theft.

Exercise legal action against any parties infringing on your IP rights, thereby preventing further damage, and deterring other threats from doing the same.

Stay informed about the latest threats and vulnerabilities in the intellectual property space, and update your IP protection strategy accordingly.

How ACUTEC Can Help

ACUTEC is an award-winning leader in cybersecurity solutions, helping organisations protect their assets and people from a myriad of cyber threats, including IP theft. Not only does ACUTEC offer the systems and technology to help protect your data, but the company takes a people-centric approach to effectively block attacks, secure cloud accounts, and educate its users.

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