Myers Berstein
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Idea Theft and Intellectual Property Infringement

Idea theft is a real threat that one often sees in the tech industry. A theft scenario may involve an entrepreneur pitching an idea to a prospective partner, intending to work together to create the next big social network or cellphone app. However, instead of working with you, the person you pitched may 'steal' your idea (without paying you for it) and bring it to another team to develop as their own concept. Of course, if confronted, that person will claim the idea is different or argue the idea came from some other source.

There are ways, however, that you can protect yourself from idea theft. On a more basic level, avoid revealing too much to those who you are pitching your product to. A surface level explanation of your concept should permit potential partners to assess the viability of your idea without permitting them to profit from your idea without you. Also, make sure that you put everything in writing, including communications with prospective backers and partners, and insist on the execution of non-disclosure agreements with anyone you intend to pitch your idea to. If you have a name picked out for your idea, register it as a trademark with the Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). You may also be able to apply for a provisional patent or for copyright protection depending on the nature of your idea.

These protections are only some of the ways you may help to mitigate theft of your idea. If you have taken all the precautions listed above and your ideas are still stolen, you may be able to bring a legal claim against the thief.

The first cause of action you may bring against someone who stole your idea and pitched it to other investors, businesses, etc, is a breach of contract claim. A contractual breach can occur when one person does not perform in accordance with the terms of the agreement. If there was a promise by the thief to pay for the use of the idea, or if you have a non-disclosure agreement or other written contract with the thief, you have a much stronger case for breach of contract. Unfortunately, a verbal promise not to use or disclose the idea without consent is difficult to enforce.

In addition to bringing a breach of contract claim against the thief, you may be file aninfringement claim based upon patent, trademark, or copyright law. Copyright claims are often filed in addition to breach of contract claims because they often cover the same wrongful acts by an idea thief. In order to bring a copyright claim, your idea must first be expressed as an artistic work; you cannot claim copyright protection in an idea alone. You must then seek to register your work with the Copyright Office. You must have at least filed a copyright application before you may bring an action for copyright infringement, but having a registration may entitle you to additional damages. This is one of the reasons why it is important to be proactive in protecting your creations in the form of a copyright. Because ideas are not protected under copyright law, if your idea is stolen before you have embodied that idea in a creative work, you may not be able to use copyright law to enforce your rights.

Talk to our experienced Orange County intellectual property law attorneys at MYBE Law today to protect your creative works and prevent, or stop, idea theft.

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