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PI Intellectual Property

How Private Investigators Can Help Clients Protect Intellectual Property

Intellectual property (IP) infringement is growing more and more common: That’s trouble for many new ventures, tech companies, crowdsourced inventions, and more – but it’s also an opportunity for private investigators. PIs with the right experience can help out those investigating intellectual property crimes, opening up a new field with a variety of clients. From working with lawyers hired over intellectual property issues to gathering evidence directly for a client, there are plenty of options for connected PIs.

Do you have the right experience for this field? Let’s take a look at what intellectual property PIs do on the job.

Online Patent Investigations and Trademark Research

Patent investigations, often connected to an IP lawsuit, focus on gather evidence to provide that a specific party has violated a patent by offering a protected product or feature. These types of jobs are often offered by IP attorneys, who have detailed knowledge about what sorts of evidence to look for in accordance with the patent, but don’t have enough time or investigation experience to gather evidence themselves.

In this case, PIs will be spending a lot of time on the internet hunting down the origins of products, along with communications between specific parties. That means scouring a lot of databases and using computer forensic skills to dive into metadata and retrieve specifics on when events happened and who knew about them. PIs with experience in hunting down information on the internet should already be well-prepared for this aspect of the job!

In some cases, PIs will be asked to work undercover before the IP lawsuit is filed. In this case, online work may involve anonymous emails or messages, working to connect with others online, and tracking down specific people or hacking attempts. They may also have to conduct specialized financial research to track down the original entity that infringed on the patent if that entity is hiding behind other names.

Real World Counterfeiting Investigations

Depending on the location of the IP infringement and the type of product involved, real-world investigations may also be required. Here, PIs will search for specific samples of counterfeit products that can be analyzed and used as evidence.

When people think about counterfeit goods, they often think about things like handbags, watches, footwear, fake cell phones, and so on. In fact, it’s a problem that covers a wide variety of industries on an international level. Businesses that make car parts, toner cartridges for printers, and tools may run into IP problems due to counterfeiting. Software, music, and literary creators may also run infringement issues. Tech products in particular are a common target for counterfeiting and knockoffs sporting a slightly different name or design with patented technology inside.

In these cases, PIs need to get samples of the products and gather information about exactly who is selling them. That could mean visiting trade shows, going undercover as a buyer, contacting other buyers to ask them for their stories, and more.

Monitoring Businesses and Other Parties

IP infringement can also run into uncertainties. Clients may suspect that a certain competitor or other party has stolen copyrighted data or is quietly violating patents, but they want confirmation before proceeding.

This leads to a number of different surveillance jobs, where PIs will monitor operations without being detected. This may include surveilling specific meetings, the movements of certain people, and more. If it is legally permitted, examining the debris businesses throw away can also be a key step in proving IP crimes.

If a client believes that a specific IP incident has already taken place, then a PI may need to start interviewing witnesses and gathering testimony about that incident ahead of a lawsuit.

Financial Auditing

Proving an IP infringement is often only part of the overall investigation. For an effective lawsuit, attorneys and their clients will also need to know exactly how much a specific party has profited from this IP crime. That’s why PIs may also be called on to do extensive financial audits of an entity. That may include studying the royalties gathered from using a specific trademark, or profits made by selling counterfeit items over a period of time.

Process Serving

Another key part of IP investigations and eventual lawsuits is serving papers to those responsible for infringement. PIs and firms with experience in process serving can also take care of this task. This involves tracking down a particular subject and serving them with a Cease-and-Desist letter.

Note that after a Cease-and-Desist serving, or even after an injunction created by a judge, a PI will often be asked to surveil a party and make sure they aren’t continuing to benefit from an IP infringement, which will be key evidence for a lawsuit.


Remember, expanding an investigation skillset in one field can create opportunities for many different types of clients. If you have been considering more training in financing auditing, computer forensics, or similar disciplines, that can open a lot of doors. That includes IP and trademark research, as well as a variety of business-related investigations, social media work, and much more. Don’t limit what your firm is capable of!

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