Stealing is stealing. The reason we react so strongly to someone arrogantly and without permission replicating our actions, thoughts, bodies of work, etc. is because of the way we are hard wired to respond to personal theft – the fight or flight instinct kicks in. For the purpose of self-preservation alone this reaction occurs. The innate biophysical response to theft is the same whether the item(s) stolen are tangible hard items or concepts.
“Someone stole my wallet.” It is your wallet. You own it and its contents. From an investigator’s standpoint, the ownership is usually clear and then a criminal investigation follows.
“He stole my project.” But the theft of a concept or idea involves an entirely different scenario. (I am not a lawyer and none of my comments in this article are meant to be in any way construed as legal advice. I do, however, have substantial experience in investigating intellectual property thefts. We’ve worked with major entertainment companies to identify unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials, individuals unlawfully copying proprietary coding to former gym partners claiming ownership of a work out technique.)
First, let’s look at how intellectual property is stolen via the two below methods.
I. Intellectual property theft
Intellectual property is any innovation, commercial or artistic; any new method or formula with economic value; or any unique name, symbol, or logo that is used commercially. Intellectual property is protected by patents on inventions; trademarks on branded devices; copyrights on music, videos, patterns, and other forms of expression; and state and federal laws. The crime of stealing intellectual occurs when someone intentionally copies someone else’s ideas or product. The other person or company—the victim—has done all the work, but the thief reaps all of the profits. From the National Crime Prevention Bureau.
n. a civil wrong (tort) in which one converts another’s property to his/her own use, which is a fancy way of saying “steals.” Conversion includes treating another’s goods as one’s own, holding onto such property which accidentally comes into the convertor’s (taker’s) hands, or purposely giving the impression the assets belong to him/her. This gives the true owner the right to sue for his/her own property or the value and loss of use of it, as well as going to law enforcement authorities since conversion usually includes the crime of theft. From law.com.
Intellectual property theft investigations and conversion investigations are similar but researching the latter requires the detective to think like the convertor; ok, the thief.
How a conversion thief thinks:
“I like what John is doing. I have a similar – but better – idea but his is already working. How do I cut through the years it took him to put this all together and get MY show on stage?”
Let’s further break down the thought process:
- The thief notes that John is ahead of him in terms of viability. (The concept is already successful for John so it works and, why recreate the wheel or put in the hard effort?)
- The thief’s mindset defaults to his concepts being better than John’s, therefore, he is entitled to “build” on John’s body of work. He sees himself as the grand master.
- The thief already thinks of the “new” or “reimagined” product/concept as his.
The convertor then has three options in accessing and transforming John’s materials to make them his own:
- To outright copy John’s work;
- If the thief is already involved in the project, he will then distance John from his property by modifying the original concept.
- Draw John in under the guise of being part of the overall bigger, better production; extract the unique concepts or techniques that John has worked on for many years and eventually overshadow him until the thief has his own property built from John’s labor and that of others.
From an investigator’s perspective in determining how and when the conversion occurred, we draw the timeline:
- How did the victim and thief meet? (Were they simply mutually in the same physical space, were they introduced – if so, by whom? Was it a casual, circumstantial introduction or intentional connection? If the latter, why?)
- What did the victim possess that the thief wanted? (Define the concept.)
- How was the victim drawn in? (Partnership offered? Alleging a shared goal?)
- How was the victim eventually (and inevitably) removed or marginalized from the production?
The logical questions asked within that timeline will always yield the answers to how and when a property was stolen.
Personality traits of a conversion thief:
- Surrounds himself with credentialled people, (borrowed credibility)
- Usually very socially adept
- Charming, congenial
- Sees himself as smarter than everyone else
Guard your intellectual property as best possible by having your property trademarked, copyrighted, registered, patented, etc., and avail yourself of solid legal advice.
BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.
As always, stay safe.