Intellectual property theft occurs when a company unlawfully uses or steals the trademarks, patents or inventions of another company.

The FBI states that this practice costs billions of dollars a year to US businesses alone. IP theft often happens outside the country, as each nation has different laws and it can be harder to prosecute cases internationally. In Australia, it is an offence to use someone else’s trademark (known as ‘passing off’) under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.

Intellectual property rights in Australia

In Australia, as in the United States, there are several intangible assets that fall under the term of intellectual property. The most important of these are:

  • copyright
  • design protection
  • domain names
  • patents
  • trademarks

Each of these is governed by different laws and can be more complicated than they appear. A trademark, for instance, can be many things – a logo, a phrase, a shape or an image, to name a few.

Registering a trademark gives the owner exclusive rights to use and license that trademark. In some instances, even an unregistered trademark can have legal standing if it’s deemed to have built up a significant reputation.

Undercover investigation case study: International IPR theft

A medical equipment distributor in Europe appointed an Australasian company with a single shareholder to handle its distribution in Australia and New Zealand.

A different company in Australia with a similar name was also set up, also with a sole shareholder. This shareholder was the son of the director of the first company.

This son had previously been banned and disqualified as a director. However, he continued in this capacity and was promoting and selling products with trademarks registered by an American company.

IFW Global investigation

The American company appointed Queensland law firm Nathan Lawyers to bring this intellectual property theft case to court. To do this, they needed to personally serve a Federal Court summons on the director of the Australasian distribution company, but her location was unknown.

Nathan Lawyers hired IFW Global to locate the director and serve her summons. IFW gathered intelligence on the director to learn more about her assets, her connection with the second company and her present whereabouts.

The outcome

Private investigations in Australia and the United Kingdom led to the discovery that this director had recently been in Paris, France, and had left on a yacht destined for Darwin, Australia. An IFW representative travelled to the Northern Territory to track down the director and serve her with the summons on her yacht whilst it was moored at a Darwin marina.

This allowed Nathan Lawyers to proceed with the court case on behalf of their American client.

IFW Global works regularly with leading law firms in Australia and overseas conducting investigative services such as surveillance, tracking defendants and corporate investigations. To find out more about our work, download our free ebook ‘Corporate Risk Due Diligence: Behind the Scenes of Three Typical Cases.’

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