Intellectual property theft is the illicit act of appropriating the creative expressions, designs, inventions, proprietary information, and trade secrets, collectively referred to as Intellectual Property (IP), belonging rightfully and lawfully to an entity. Typically, IP theft occurs within the realm of the business world, encompassing competitive disputes and internal breaches of trust. It is important to explicitly define and specify ownership of intellectual property within employment contracts and terms and conditions. As employees’ tenure with a company lengthens, their responsibility and commitment grow, as well as their duly bound and what expected out of them intensifies. Loyalty may be rewarded, but at the same time can be manipulated and misused, as in the case of employees who are tempted by bribery and other inhouse or external factors. But acts of unethical actions in pursuit of advantage do work both ways and probable to be initiated by any parties involved in the supposedly trust-chain.
Some examples of IP theft
Two companies engaged in the production of electric vehicles are embroiled in a legal battle concerning pilfered IPs. The leading company has taken legal action against a manufacturer of electric SUVs, alleging the theft of its trade secrets. According to their claims, more than fifty former employees departed the leading company to join their rival, carrying valuable trade secrets with them. Conversely, the accused company asserts that this lawsuit is a ploy to tarnish its reputation. Regardless of the veracity of these allegations, the leading company has gained notoriety for its robust defence of its trade secrets and has filed lawsuit against the other self-driving companies. A prominent carbonated soft drink corporation has zealously guarded the secrecy of its formula for years. Although rumours have persisted about the formula potentially containing cocaine, some speculations veer toward insect ingredients as the reason behind the formula’s secrecy. In one incident, three employees managed to gain access to the closely guarded secret formula and approached a direct competitor with the intention of selling it. This case continues.
It is a well-established fact that organisations sometimes resort to actions that many would consider unethical in their quest for competitive advantages. An illustrative case from nearly a decade ago involves an individual architect who pioneered a technology called “Engineered Architecture,” facilitating the creation of cost-effective sustainable properties. This innovation caught the attention of a tech industry giant, leading to the signing of a non-disclosure agreement for a collaborative project. However, the tech giant discreetly attempted to sabotage and erase the project, opting instead to launch a spin-off version without the original creator. In response, the creator filed a complaint. In another instance, a plant manager at a food-processing company devised an innovative enhancement for the existing screening process. In recognition of his contribution, the company owner proposed a reward-sharing arrangement. Yet, prior to formalising the agreement, the manager secretly filed a patent under his own name. Upon discovering this, the company demanded the surrender of the patent, leading to a legal dispute that ultimately favoured the company. However, the initial patent obtained by the company proved very poorly drafted, deemed almost unusable. As the original creator, the plant manager possessed the original, superior and enhanced version, prompting him to pursue international patent ownership.
Intellectual Property Theft and Its Implications
Intellectual property (IP) theft has become pervasive across diverse sectors worldwide, exacting a significant toll on governments, businesses, and individuals, with losses tallying in the trillions annually. The spectrum of IP theft spans tangible items like counterfeit goods to intangible assets such as copyrights, data, processing mechanisms, technical formulas, algorithms, and cyber-attacks aimed at IP theft. Cybersecurity breaches alone have allegedly resulted in billions in losses for organisations. Clearly, safeguarding these invaluable assets must be a crucial concern for all parties including governments, corporations, and individuals alike, especially in the today’s digital economy. Proactive IP protection is a vital strategy to prevent victimisation by theft. This involves comprehensive measures such as: figure out what your IP is and where, identifying and monitoring who has access to them, and ensuring robust security measures to avoid exploitation, abuse or theft, particularly in an era of heightened competition and technological advancement. On a global scale, at the moment there is a global IP war between two of the most powerful and rich nations of the world, with trademark and patent infringement as the key part of mounting tensions as they compete to grow in next-generation technologies. There are also a handful of “suspected” countries – all of them categorised as considerably resourced-rich developing nations – that have been put on the “priority watch list” indicating that problems exist in that country with respect to IP theft, protection, enforcement, market access or human rights-related infringement. While one of the top three of these countries have subsequently become known as a global tech sub of resources, at the opposing end there is another one on the list that has in recent years been “stripped off” from their blooming technological ambition and capabilities due to political concern and link to some hostile countries.
Intellectual Property and the Brain
Your brain is the most important part of your existence. It is your central nervous system. The prevailing notion suggests that humans employ only around ten percent of their brain capacity, with the remaining ninety percent deemed inactive. Medical experts posit that most brain injuries often yield inconsequential consequences, primarily because the afflicted regions were originally dormant. However, ongoing research and advances in medical science may likely uncover further insights. In light of the rising field of Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCI), discussions and debates have arisen, emphasising the need to delve into the factors influencing human enhancement, especially in the realm of the brain. In summary, the neuro-political dimensions of Brain Science and its implications for human augmentation are poised to be incorporated into Intellectual Property Law in the near future. Currently, numerous global projects are exploring ways to facilitate a future where the human brain seamlessly integrates with technology through telepathic means. In much the same way that disputes may arise over ownership of related intellectual properties, equal significance must be attributed to establishing ownership and origins of the factors contributing to such enhancements. Technologies designed to augment the human brain possess the potential to greatly amplify our creative capabilities. Nevertheless, as we will contend, these technological augmentations also pose a threat to individual autonomy by potentially displacing innovation and ownership from the hands of the individuals. Certainly, claims of ownership that disregard the collaborative nature of innovation in favour of individual assertions of originality pose significant challenges. However, even more disconcerting is the prospect that when technologies redefine how humans communicate and transcend the boundaries of the human body, what was previously considered an individual’s creative or innovative work could be more easily appropriated by those who control these enhancement technologies. In a world where scientists can extract images from the human brain and manifest them as graphic representations of thoughts, the concept of originality becomes blurred, raising questions about authorship.
In contrast to the already-accepted mainstream technology of AI-generated music and art creation, cases involving original artists, painters, and musicians filing complaints and lawsuits are on the rise. They seek to protect the ownership of their creations. One AI tech startup, for instance, gathered and sliced one billion potential melodies from decades of copyrighted popular songs, generating a hundred million new tracks. While the initial intent whether to profit from it remains unconfirmed, following series of disclosures and complaints, these AI-generated tracks became freely accessible to subscribers for download. Similar issues permeate the arts and creative industries.
In the tech world, these original songs, paintings, artworks, theories, algorithms, all type of outputs – scientific, technical or artistry – are considered as “raw data.” No company, whether profit-driven or non-profit, can thrive without data. Since the inception of trade, data has been regarded as one of the most valuable assets, both tangible and intangible. Every facet of business, from resource planning to marketing, finance, customer service, sales, and operations, relies on data. Digitalisation has seamlessly integrated these assets into strategic directions and monetisation efforts. If you haven’t been stranded in the Sahara in the past ten years, you would’ve heard the term “data is the new oil”. And we know what the oil rush was like back in the 70s and 80s. Many online companies utilise subscriber-based data not only to enhance customer experiences but also to collaborate with third parties and solicited agencies. Most offer customers the option to either opt-in or opt-out of data sharing. Safeguarding subscription-based data is crucial. Moreover, data available in the public domain, which can be freely accessed through research and data collection tools, is unquestionably valued and monetised based on the entity’s processing power and engineering techniques and algorithms, as well as the resulting output’s quality, accuracy, consistency, and reliability. Therefore, attempts to gain unauthorised access to the results of and such processing and engineering itself constitute intellectual property theft. A collective effort by various law agencies, referred to as “The Great Brain Robbery,” seeks to raise public awareness regarding Intellectual Property Rights in the context of Web3 and encourages governments to protect creativity, innovation, and both artistic and scientific expression in the digital age.
Our conventional notions of creativity stem from concepts of consciousness that presuppose the mind as a distinct entity, separate from the mechanistic processes of metabolism and bodily functions. Even those who have discarded the idea of the soul in favour of locating the mind within the brain still rely on metaphors that owe their origins to dualistic views of the mind. Our legal systems for intellectual property are deeply entwined with these metaphors, shaping how we conceive of individuals and the creative labour we associate with individuality, and vice versa. In a fast-changing landscape, it might not only be individual inventors but also companies vying to assert proprietary rights over knowledge. This could potentially trigger a race to accumulate ideas, contingent on the emergence of novel property regimes to resolve disputes. We might witness the deployment of machine intelligence to pre-emptively generate all conceivable ideas, striving for legal protection before the merit of a specific idea is determined.
IP Theft and Third-Party Control of Your Brain: Possible?
Another unsettling scenario related to the brain and its properties involves the theft of intellectual property (IP) from the brain and unauthorised access and external control. In essence, external parties, utilising Brain-Computer Interfaces, covertly extract and harvest thoughts, memories, and even intercept cognitive connections. This resembles a type of phishing attack, involving malware, faulty or parasitic chip, or direct wavelength connections. The question arises: can brainwaves and neural signals indeed be intercepted? The answer is affirmative, as these signals can potentially be intercepted at various points along the neural signal transduction pathway, including within the brain itself (e.g., electroencephalography, electrocorticography, intracortical recordings), nerves (e.g., peripheral nerve recordings), and muscles (e.g., electromyography). With technological advancements, it is feasible to decode human motor and neuronal activity from these neural signals, as evidenced by experiments in various fields, including sports. For instance, a football player facing an opponent must decide whether to dribble, shoot, or pass the ball. This decision depends on the player’s position, the opponent’s location, and the ball’s trajectory, in addition to the player’s current joint angles of the knees and ankles. The player’s posterior parietal cortex (PPC) receives input from the somatosensory cortex, providing information about the body’s current state. Moreover, the PPC has extensive connections with the prefrontal cortex, responsible for abstract strategic thinking. These connections enable the prefrontal cortex to consider additional factors beyond sensory input when making decisions. Signals from the central nervous system (CNS) ultimately reach the peripheral nervous system (PNS), driving the contraction of specific muscle fibres. Compared to the CNS, peripheral structures transmit more specific signals that contain detailed instructions for individual muscle fibre contractions, potentially enabling precise control for prosthetic devices. Surgeries related to peripheral interfaces are typically less complex than those involving intracortical structures. As a result, numerous studies focus on motor decoding within peripheral structures.
However, all medical and scientific procedures related to brainwaves typically require the targeted subject to be in a dormant state with minimal mental activity. Psychographic segmentation suggests that individuals in retirement, young children, those immobilised for extended periods, those with disabilities or illnesses, and individuals who rarely engage in cognitive tasks or minimal brain-work on a day-to-day basis, theoretically represent ideal and easiest candidates for brainwave detection or interception. Driven with jealousy and desperately want to attempt ousting your fierce competitors and copycat or hacked their brain functions? Have them out of their posh jobs or hectic lives, and send them to do menial works or be unemployed instead. And while many believes the experimentations have been one-way in detecting only and decoding the neurological pathways, recent use case studies demonstrate the improved ability to affect and influence certain motoric and sensory cortex. Thinking that your body or mind start behaving out-of-character? The culprit who’s doing the exact experimentation may not be that far from you.
While it is unquestionable that we each own our own brains, recent reversal of global developments have already had certain-type of followers campaigning to cast doubt on others in terms of the ownership of various birth-rights and aspects of our lives that were once considered unquestionably ours, such as our bodies and futures. Changes in regulations, reversal cultural norms, skewed political interests, ambitions of those in power, and emerging fields of science and neuroscience may be used to influence perceptions and considerations in this regard. Devotees of Jungian psychology can tell you the premise that each human is a distinct entity connected subconsciously with others, the world, and perhaps even the universe. Nevertheless, the entirety of our bodies, including their contents, connectivity, and creations, unequivocally ours. Fait accompli. It would require much more than science, technology, beliefs, traditions, let alone politics or regulations, and even the most dystopian tyrant, to be able to prove it otherwise.