Intellectual Property Disputes

What is an IP (Intellectual Property) dispute? 


An IP dispute is a conflict or disagreement over Intellectual property rights (IP rights) (see the Trade4MSMEs guide on Intellectual Property Considerations). A dispute is usually started by the individual or business with in which the IP was created known as the “right holder.” Businesses raise IP disputes when they believe that other individuals, companies, or entities have made an unauthorized use of their IP assets, such as copyrighted material, patented inventions, trademark-protected signs, and trade secrets.


As with other commercial disputes, it is important to maintain and understand your own IP rights and how they can be protected, as well as recognize and respect the IP rights of others. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is a center of excellence for training and education on this subject.


How can IP disputes arise? 


IP disputes arise when the holder of an IP right alleges that its IP has been acquired or used by another (infringed) without its permission. For example, use of a trademarked sign or patented invention without the holder’s consent may constitute trademark or patent infringement. Acquiring trade secrets or protected information dishonestly may also violate the holder’s rights. Unfortunately, an IP dispute may also be raised in bad faith by a business which alleges the infringement of a right that does not in fact exist, with the goal of eliminating or delaying competition. IP disputes can also arise over the ownership and authorization to use IP developed by joint partnerships or through other cooperative arrangements.


What can I do in the event of an IP infringement? 


It is usually the responsibility of the IP right holder to protect their rights by identifying and challenging infringement. You should seek expert legal advice if you suspect someone else has infringed your IP rights or alleges that you have infringed theirs. As IP rights are enforced at the local level, specialized knowledge of domestic laws and practices is required to successfully protect your IP or defend against an infringement allegation.
Depending on the right holder’s location or jurisdiction, businesses can contact local business support associations to find out what help, and guidance may be available.


The five actions listed below are among those commonly taken in the event of IP infringement:

  • Cease-and-desist letters: When the identity of an alleged infringer is known, the IP right holder often first attempts to resolve the dispute directly by sending a cease-and-desist letter that notifies the infringer of how its business activities conflict with an IP right(s). If the infringement was unintentional, the infringer will often either discontinue its activities or consent to negotiate a licensing agreement.
  • Border actions: IP right holders who suspect that infringing goods are being transported across borders may file written applications with the competent domestic authorities for the suspension of such goods by customs authorities.
  • Administrative proceedings: Most jurisdictions maintain registers of patents and trademarks, among other IP rights, which are protected in their jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions offer procedures for opposing a registration or invalidating an already registered right. IP right holders may pursue such administrative procedures to prevent similar or allegedly infringing signs or inventions from obtaining legal rights.
  • Alternative dispute resolution (ADR): ADR proceedings are sometimes less costly and complex alternatives to resolving an IP dispute than judicial proceedings. Two types of ADR processes may be available. In a mediation procedure, a mediator helps the parties reach a mutually satisfactory agreement. In an arbitration procedure, one or more arbitrators make a binding decision for all parties based on the rights and obligations of the latter and arbitral law. Licensing agreements and other contracts often provide for parties to resolve disputes under the agreement through ADR in lieu of judicial proceedings.
  • Judicial proceedings: Judicial proceedings seeking resolution through the courts is usually the last resort for resolving an IP dispute. Different judicial venues and remedies may be available under domestic law. Judicial authorities may issue temporary and/or permanent injunctions enjoining infringing activities; order the infringer to pay compensation for the IP right holder’s damages and expenses; and/or order the disposal of infringing goods. Domestic law enforcement may also pursue IP infringers with criminal proceedings and penalties in certain circumstances.


The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has an Arbitration and Mediation Center that provides mediation and arbitration services at reduced fees for small businesses in case the latter opt for ADR mechanisms to resolve IP disputes. The WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center can assist with procedures and provide templates for contract clauses and submission agreements to present in an IP dispute.


Links to more information 


The Trade4MSMES guide Intellectual Property Considerations


The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Academy provides additional training WIPO Academy


WIPO Alternative Dispute Resolution  Alternative Dispute Resolution (


WIPO Mediation  Guide to WIPO Mediation


WIPO Arbitration   Guide to WIPO Arbitration


WIPO Mediation and Arbitration center for MSMEs WIPO Mediation and Arbitration for SMEs


WIPO WIPO Clause Generator  suggested clauses related to IPR for use in contracts

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