The Trusted Network of Private Investigators
Find an Investigator
Find an Investigator

7 Tips for Private Investigators Looking to Offer Intellectual Property Investigations

  • July 14, 2010
  • by Cynthia Padilla

Editor's note: This is the second article in a two-part series covering intellectual property (IP) investigations. The first article covered what IP investigation is and why private investigators should consider getting involved. In this article, we'll give you several tips on how to enter the growing practice.

If you would like to offer IP investigation services, you need to be aware of certain issues. Even if you are not thinking about offering this service, you never know when you will encounter a potential client with IP problems. Stuart Drobny of Stumar Investigations admits that he got involved in IP investigations by accident when a client approached him and he had never done IP investigations before. The same could happen to you. Here are some tips to get you started:

1. Make sure you can do undercover work
When asked what skills are important for a private investigator to have in order to be an effective IP investigator, Drobny listed the ability to blend in and assume an identity for undercover work. When combating counterfeiting and piracy, typical work for IP investigators includes extensive surveillance and field work investigating stores, marketplaces, swap meets, and other sites for evidence of the selling of counterfeit products. The investigator then goes undercover and purchases the counterfeit products for evidence and to identify the parties involved in the counterfeiting operation. This is sometimes referred to as a "trap" purchase.

2. Understand finances, the economy, and how businesses work
You need to be aware of your clients' businesses and understand the financial repercussions of IP theft. You also need to understand how the economy and trade of IP products work. Also be aware of common and popular luxury items and brands that are frequently counterfeited. Keep abreast of current IP crime cases. Read domestic and international government and law enforcement sites for statistics, investigation news about seizures/arrests, and information on combating counterfeiting and other IP crimes. Subscribe to the sites updates and alerts.

3. Know enough about intellectual property to perform necessary field work and gather evidence While you do not need to know all the specifics about intellectual property, you do need to understand how IP crimes are committed in order to properly conduct investigations. For example, in order to identify all parties involved in a counterfeiting operation, you will need to conduct supply chain investigations to find not just the sellers but also the manufacturers, distributors, packagers, and others involved.

You should also be familiar with identifying counterfeit products and gathering evidence. Gathering evidence for criminal and/or civil litigation arising from IP crimes is very important. To assist in the obtaining of evidence, IP investigators frequently accompany and assist local and federal law enforcement in counterfeit raids. Drobny typically will begin an investigation and then turn it over to law enforcement. But he says that the IP investigator is still needed for identification of counterfeit products and handling of evidence.

4. It is helpful to have a law enforcement and/or criminal justice background

While not necessary, Drobny says it is helpful if an IP investigator and/or his staff have a background or education in law enforcement or criminal justice. Many IP investigators come from these backgrounds, including some of Drobny's staff.

Understanding criminal law is also important with the growing problem of terrorist groups and organized crime syndicates using profits from IP crimes in order to fund other criminal activities and operations. According to INTERPOL, 12% of IP theft cases worldwide are linked to areas of organized crime.

5. Make sure you are equipped for investigating IP rights worldwide
The fact that IP crimes are global makes it essential that you are able to conduct international IP investigations. You will need to have contacts worldwide who have local knowledge of the laws and customs. Drobny has a worldwide network that he works with. He is also a member of the World Association of Detectives. It is important that you network and form partnerships with your colleagues overseas. Knowing a foreign language is also advisable. Drobny and his staff speak several foreign languages.

6. You will also do "non-field" work
As Drobny points out, online counterfeiting is just as big of a problem as "offline" counterfeiting. All kinds of counterfeit products are sold online, especially fake medications and luxury items. One of the services that Drobny and most other IP investigators perform is monitoring online auction websites for counterfeit products.

But the problem goes beyond online auction sites. Some online counterfeit rings are comprised of numerous websites selling counterfeit goods through hundreds and thousands of domain names. Investigators need to be able to connect the dots between owners of the multiple websites and domain names.

7. Join organizations and visit websites that will assist you with your IP investigations
Drobny belongs to many organizations related to IP including the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition and the International Intelligence Network. He also belongs to some groups on LinkedIn such as the Intellectual Property Professionals, Pharma Anti-Counterfeiting, and Licensing, Merchandising & Brand Management. Consider joining these and other groups that will help you stay informed about IP issues and crimes. Drobny also recommends looking at relevant websites such as U.S. Customs and the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition.

Other useful websites include:
* Computer Crime & Intellectual Property Section of the U.S. Department of Justice
* U.S. Food and Drug Administration (Counterfeit Medicine)
* U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
* U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
* American Bar Association (International Law Section, International IPR Advisory Program)
* World Intellectual Property Organization

Other tips from Stuart Drobny
* Always handle your work in a professional manner
* Be properly licensed in the areas you are doing your work in
* Know the local resources that can assist you with your investigations

This article was written by staff writer Cynthia Padilla.

Join PInow

To learn more about becoming a member of's trusted network of investigators, contact us online or call (888) 997-4669.

If you would like to redistribute this article or any other content for your website, newsletter or other publication, e-mail [email protected] to find out how.

Search Articles

Follow PInow

PI News Round-Up Newsletter

Private investigator news, business tips and events delivered to your inbox.

Newsletter Archive →

Article Categories

Join PInow

Reach more clients and grow your business.

Join Today

  • Nationwide Network
  • Local Search Optimization
  • Website Templates

Read Member Testimonials →

The all-in-one software for process servers, at work or on the road.

Learn More