What to do When Someone Steals Your Idea

Theft of ideas is a common phenomenon in the creative industry because unexpressed ideas lack legal protections. Viable ideas attract infringers seeking to ride on your success. The steps you take in claiming back your idea depends on the nature of the intellectual property law that protects the idea.

Patent Rights

If someone infringes on your patent, you may file a patent infringement lawsuit to reclaim it. The court will prohibit the infringer against further infringement on your patent if you win the lawsuit. It may also seek your compensation and impose punishment on the infringer. If the infringer stole your idea by filing patent ahead of you, making things right may be more difficult now than they were before, thanks to the America Invents Act.


Enforcing a copyright may involve first warning an infringer through a “cease and desist” letter. The letter seeks to stop the infringer from further use of your idea. If the party ignores the warning, taking a legal action against him may be a smart move. The enforcement method you will use may depend on whether you registered your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office at the time of infringement. Even if the copyright is not registered, you may still sue the infringer and seek compensation if you have sufficient evidence of the damages.

Trademark Rights

Trademark enforcement can be done in the state where your business operates. In so doing, you will need to provide evidence to show that you used the trademark in your business before the infringer stole it. If you want to enforce the trademark in a state where the mark has not been used, the first step should be to register the mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Enforcing the trademark nationally to bar the infringer from using the mark after the registration completes the enforcement process.

Trade Secrets

A trade secret refers to proprietary information like customer lists that gives your business a competitive edge over others in the same industry. The information must be kept private and confidential. Such information, however, may not have a patent, trademark, or copyright. If someone else steals your trade secret, you can take a legal action against him. Depending on the circumstances, possible solutions that the court may provide include compensating you for damages, prosecuting the infringer, and issuing an injunction to bar the infringer from further using the trade secret.

In a nutshell, because reclaiming your stolen idea can be a complicated process, it is advisable to hire the services of a business litigator with expertise in business legal matters. Depending on the nature of infringement, the lawyer will help you in taking the appropriate course of action to help recover your idea.

Lisa Anderson

Lisa Anderson is an innovation storyteller, covering the intersection of technology, creativity, and entrepreneurship. Her interviews with industry disruptors and thought leaders give her a unique vantage point on the next big ideas shaping our future.