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Intellectual property Criminal Defense Lawyers

By Spodek Law Group | July 27, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 12, 2023)

Last Updated on: 12th October 2023, 10:02 pm

Defending Your Rights: A Guide to Intellectual Property Criminal Defense Lawyers

Intellectual property laws can be tricky to navigate. As an author, artist, inventor or business owner, you want to protect your ideas and creations. But sometimes disputes arise over who owns what intellectual property. In severe cases, the government may get involved and pursue criminal charges.

If you find yourself under investigation for an intellectual property crime, don’t panic. You have rights. A knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer can help protect your interests. This guide will give you an overview of intellectual property theft charges and how an attorney can defend you.

What is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind, like inventions, literary and artistic works, symbols, names, images and designs used in commerce. There are four main types:

  • Patents – Protect new inventions and cover how things work, what they’re made of and how they’re used.
  • Trademarks – Protect names, slogans, logos and other brand identifiers.
  • Copyrights – Protect original works of authorship like books, articles, music, art, photographs, videos and computer programs.
  • Trade secrets – Protect confidential and proprietary information like customer lists, manufacturing processes, special recipes and computer algorithms.

Rights related to intellectual property allow creators to benefit from their own work. Without these protections, others could easily copy, distribute and profit from someone else’s creation.

What is Intellectual Property Theft?

Intellectual property theft involves taking someone’s IP without permission. This includes making unauthorized copies as well as stealing trade secrets. Intellectual property crimes may include:

  • Downloading pirated movies, music or software
  • Selling counterfeit goods with fake trademarks
  • Photocopying books or articles instead of buying them
  • Stealing and selling trade secrets
  • Reverse engineering a product to uncover trade secrets
  • Plagiarizing copyrighted material
  • Registering an internet domain using someone else’s trademark

Some violations are civil matters, handled through private lawsuits and cease and desist orders. But in certain cases, the government will get involved and pursue criminal charges.

Several federal laws prohibit intellectual property theft. Common charges include:

Trademark Counterfeiting

Trafficking counterfeit goods or services using a registered trademark without the owner’s consent violates 18 U.S. Code § 2320. Offenders may face up to 10 years in prison and a $2 million fine.

Reproducing, distributing, publicly performing or displaying copyrighted work without permission may violate 17 U.S. Code § 506 and 18 U.S. Code § 2319. Penalties include up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Trade Secret Theft

Stealing trade secrets or transmitting them without authorization breaks 18 U.S. Code § 1832. This felony can lead to 10 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

Economic Espionage

Stealing trade secrets to benefit a foreign government, agent or instrumentality violates 18 U.S. Code § 1831. Conviction carries up to 15 years imprisonment and a $500,000 fine.

DMCA Violations

Bypassing technological protections on copyrighted work breaks the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Offenders may face up to 5 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

In addition to the specific federal laws above, prosecutors can also bring charges like wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering and criminal conspiracy.

Investigations and Charges

Several federal agencies combat intellectual property crimes, including:

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) – Investigates theft of trade secrets for economic espionage as well as large-scale counterfeiting and piracy operations.
  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – Seizes imported counterfeit goods. DHS investigations can lead to criminal charges.
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – Investigates counterfeit drugs and medical devices.
  • U.S. Postal Inspection Service – Investigates mail fraud related to counterfeit goods.
  • U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) – Assists law enforcement with trademark counterfeiting issues.

If convicted of an intellectual property crime, you may face imprisonment, fines, probation, community service and restitution to victims. Collateral consequences can include harm to your finances and reputation.

How a Lawyer Can Defend You

The government often wields significant leverage in intellectual property prosecutions. But experienced criminal defense counsel can protect your rights at every stage. Here’s how:

Pre-Charge Strategies

If you learn you’re under investigation, a lawyer can intervene early to avoid charges. They may be able to:

  • Negotiate with prosecutors before charges are filed
  • Convince investigators you had no criminal intent
  • Explain weaknesses in the government’s case
  • Highlight your cooperation and compliance efforts
  • Volunteer restitution to rights holders

Motions to Suppress Evidence

If you are charged, a lawyer can challenge the admissibility of the government’s evidence through motions to suppress. Possible arguments include:

  • Fourth Amendment violations – Evidence was obtained through an unlawful search or seizure.
  • Fifth Amendment violations – You were compelled to make self-incriminating statements.
  • Attorney-client privilege – Privileged communications were improperly accessed.
  • Fruit of the poisonous tree – Evidence resulted from or was tainted by unconstitutional actions.

Trial and Plea Strategies

During litigation, counsel will aggressively test the prosecution’s case and raise all possible defenses, such as:

  • You had a good faith belief you weren’t infringing rights or misappropriating trade secrets.
  • You made “fair use” of a copyrighted work for purposes like education, commentary, criticism, parody or research.
  • The material you allegedly infringed wasn’t subject to IP protection or your use was authorized.
  • You independently created something without copying or using trade secrets.
  • Someone else was responsible for the criminal conduct.
  • Technical issues call into question the reliability of the government’s evidence.

If pleading guilty or no contest to some charges helps avoid conviction on more serious ones, your lawyer can pursue a favorable plea bargain. They’ll also seek to minimize any sentencing penalties.


After conviction and sentencing, a lawyer can appeal on grounds like insufficient evidence, procedural errors, excessive punishment or abuse of discretion. Appeals may overturn a conviction, reduce a sentence or lead to a new trial.

Choosing the Right Lawyer

If you’re under investigation or charged with an intellectual property crime, it’s critical to have an experienced attorney protecting your rights from the earliest stages. Look for a lawyer who:

  • Regularly handles federal criminal defense cases
  • Is familiar with IP laws like copyright, trademark and trade secret statutes
  • Has experience litigating complex white collar cases
  • Knows how to negotiate with prosecutors effectively
  • Has previously defended intellectual property theft charges
  • Is prepared to take your case to trial if necessary
  • Has a track record of achieving successful case outcomes

With skilled counsel in your corner, you can avoid the harshest penalties and protect your future. Don’t wait to engage a lawyer if federal agents come knocking with IP theft allegations.

The Bottom Line

Intellectual property laws aim to protect creators and rights holders. But disputes and misunderstandings happen. If you find yourself facing criminal charges, stay calm and immediately contact a defense lawyer. An experienced attorney can often get charges reduced or dismissed. If necessary, they can mount a vigorous defense at trial. With the right legal advice, support and advocacy, you can achieve the best possible outcome and move forward with your life.


[1] https://federal-lawyer.com/criminal-law/intellectual-property-theft/

[2] https://academic.oup.com/book/41122/chapter/350440104

[3] https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2920883

[4] https://jesusbecerra.com/en/blog/what-are-the-crimes-against-intellectual-property

[5] https://freemanlaw.com/practice-areas/white-collar-criminal-defense/intellectual-property/

[6] https://www.stanfordlawreview.org/print/article/life-liberty-and-trade-secrets/

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