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Criminal intellectual property litigation

If you or an employee is found to be in breach of a person or organisation’s intellectual property rights, it could mean lengthy legal proceedings and you paying out compensation.

It was recently reported that intellectual property (IP) litigation has been on the rise across the globe – proving people are willing to take others to court if they think their IP has been infringed upon.

With this in mind, it is vital that you know your rights, and take steps to prevent such breaches in the workplace.

If you're an individual whose IP has been exploited, see our intellectual property section

What is criminal intellectual property rights infringement?

Criminal intellectual property (IP) breaches are also commonly known as ‘piracy’ and ‘counterfeiting’. The latter is defined as the manufacture, distribution, sale and importation of products which carry a false trademark of a genuine brand without permission, and for financial gain.

Piracy includes copying, broadcasting and distributing infringing works. The offender does not necessarily need to profit from these sales to be in breach of the law.

For example, section 107 (1)(c) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 could make it an offence to possess an infringing copy of a work.

Not all IP breaches will be treated as criminal cases. In business-to-business disputes, such cases are usually tackled by civil law.

Someone is in breach of my IP rights – how can the law help?

Trading Standards is primarily responsible for enforcing criminal IP laws, and will usually receive support from the police. It may also require assistance from you, the IP owner.

You also have the option of bringing civil proceedings against whoever you believe has infringed on your intellectual property.

What are the ways in which IP breaches can take place in the workplace?

Criminal IP offences may be taking place in your workplace in a variety of ways. These include:

  • Employees selling fake goods or copies of protected works.
  • Employees using company servers and computers to upload infringing content to the internet with the knowledge of management.
  • Using the work intranet to offer infringing products for sale to colleagues.
  • Visitors entering your premises to sell fake items.
  • Using unlicensed software on work computer systems with the knowledge of management.

If you have concerns about a particular kind of business IP infringement, we explain each in our commercial intellectual property section.

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What are the risks of IP infringement to my business?

IP crime could leave your business open to a potential fine of up to £50,000, in addition to a custodial sentence of up to 10 years. Meanwhile, piracy and counterfeiting can affect your reputation and business security. In some cases, it may even risk the health and safety of your customers and staff.

IP rights infringement and, in particular, IP crime threaten any legitimate businesses and undermines consumer confidence.

Beyond this, failing to address, and not taking steps to prevent, IP infringement could put your business at risk of civil and or criminal prosecution. Under civil law, court action may result in a fine of up to £20,000.

What if someone sues me or my business for infringing their IP rights?

If someone claims you are infringing their design, there are two basic types of defence:

  1. You are not infringing – You claim that your actions do not infringe their design
  2. The design is invalid – You can take legal action to challenge the validity of the design.

The loser of the court proceedings must usually pay the legal costs of both sides, so think hard before starting legal action. If someone informs you of their intention to sue you for IP infringement, it would be advisable to try and reach agreement with them e.g. by licensing the design.

I would like legal advice on criminal IP infringement – what's my next move?

We recommend that you contact our specialists in intellectual property law for help and advice.

Whether you want to defend yourself against an accusation of IP infringement, are seeking to take action against those breaching your rights, or you want to prevent such issues in the future, our experts can ensure you take the right action.

Chat to our legal advisors to find out your options.  If you wish to proceed, they'll put you in touch with solicitor tailored to your needs.

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