What Can A Company Do If Someone Steals Its Idea Or Trade Secret In Pennsylvania?

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Jeffery A. Dailey - Business Litigation - Super Lawyers

Answered by: Jeffery A. Dailey

Located in Philadelphia, PADailey LLP

Phone: 215-970-2099
Fax: 215-981-4750

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Because not all ideas are protected, the first thing you should do is consult with a lawyer and evaluate whether or not you have the right to seek relief.

If you had an idea and did nothing to develop it before sharing it with someone without a contract in effect, there may be no mechanism to protect the idea.  However, determining whether something is protected often depends on the facts of a particular situation.

How Are Business Ideas And Trade Secrets Protected?

When seeking to safeguard an idea you should evaluate whether you can use one of the three main categories of legal protection: (1) copyrights; (2) trademarks; or (3) patents.  Some ideas may require a combination of these three steps.  Even without one of those legal protections, in certain circumstances, you may have legal recourse if an idea was stolen that you shared with another person under:

  • A nondisclosure agreement (NDA)
  • A noncompete clause or another type of contract

These contracts can provide some protection depending upon how they were drafted.

Steps For Bringing A Legal Claim

Many lawsuits are filed over trademark, patent and copyright violations. However, a significant volume of “idea litigation” involves cases where those protections are not in effect. These often result in a breach of contract claim when an NDA or noncompete agreement is violated or trade secrets are stolen. To properly evaluate and prove your claim, you should:

  • Gather information about how the idea was shared with the company
  • Identify how your idea compares to what the company is currently doing
  • Match all similarities in what they are doing and what you shared
  • Gather emails, texts, Outlook calendars and other communication establishing a timeline of what was shared and when
  • Document conversations over the idea, including when they took place
  • Gather the names of other potential witnesses who may have been involved in a discussion or the process, such as business partners or others

This information will be important for your attorney to advise you on whether you have a case and whether the best strategy is to file a civil lawsuit or to approach the company about some type of resolution.

What Types Of Compensation Are Possible?

Compensation in these cases can take several different forms.  For cases that fully litigate, money damages are the primary compensation provided.  For cases that settle, there are a number of different ways that the parties can structure the resolution depending on the situation.  For some, it is not all about receiving a monetary award, but may be about having a role in the company to be part of how the idea is implemented and developed.

Focused And Attentive Legal Representation

Legal cases involving theft of ideas are typically complicated and involve high stakes.  As such, your attorneys should have prior experience with these types of cases.

Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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