Companies derive value from their intellectual property (IP), which stimulates entire countries’ economic growth. In this regard, IP violation is a cause for concern at both a company and a national level. For companies, IP theft and infringements reduce their revenues and could even lead to loss of employment if the situation is left unmitigated.
On the other hand, a country’s gross domestic product (GDP), which represents the value of goods and products a country produces, also drops as a result of the violations. The dire consequences of IP theft, particularly those threatening businesses’ survival, demonstrate the importance of intellectual property protection.
Intellectual property (IP) refers to any intangible asset owned by a company or individual and includes copyrights, patents, trademarks, trade secrets, and industrial designs. Intellectual property constitutes a company’s competitive advantage in any industry. The value IP brings companies and individuals makes its abuse common.
IP abuse, which refers to the exploitation of an individual’s or business’s IP by an unauthorized third party to profit off the brand’s name or its intangible assets, is quite rampant. And it is influenced by the need to profit off a company’s brand, essentially reaping from where another party sowed. IP abuse consists of the following:
- Counterfeiting and replicas
- Trademark squatting
- Brand impersonation
- Rogue websites
- Piracy and copyright infringements
IP abuse has always existed. For instance, The Pirate Bay, a piracy website that operates on a peer-to-peer connection model, was established in 2003, long before fiber internet became common. It is even older than YouTube and Facebook.
Further, the trade-in fake goods were 2.5% of the world trade in 2013 and rose to 3.3% in 2019. This increase might seem minimal, but it is alarming still, given the volume of world trade has also increased within that time. However, the most disturbing news for IP owners is that IP abuse is projected to continue rising, pointing to the need for IP protection.
Intellectual property protection
Intellectual property protection refers to the measures a company or individual institutes to prevent or mitigate IP abuse. You can choose between these two approaches if you are an IP owner, namely the proactive and reactive methods.
Proactive intellectual property protection
This approach is preventative. It functions on the principle that a company cannot protect its intellectual property if it does not know exactly what it owns. Besides identifying what it owns, the company should establish the value its assets hold. The proactive IP protection approach provides all this information.
It entails conducting an intellectual property audit, which is a review of the IP assets and the subsequent analysis of their strengths and weaknesses. The analysis provides insight into how effectively the company can manage and use what it owns. It is through the resultant understanding that the company can protect its assets from exploitation.
For instance, an IP audit identifies an underused process or a design that has remained unused for a long time. In the wrong hands, another party will benefit, but if the owner utilizes its assets appropriately, it becomes a first mover and creates a reputation as the sole producer.
Reactive intellectual property protection
The reactive approach entails mitigating against the IP violations while the abuse is ongoing. The use of web scraping in intellectual property protection is an example of a reactive intellectual property protection approach.
Web scraping refers to the automated extraction of data from websites and subsequently converting it into a structured format for download by a human user. You can use ready-to-use tools or build your own web scraper, for example, with Python programming language.
Python web scraping is a widespread method among the web scraping community, as this language is relatively easy to learn and work with. What’s more, it contains a plethora of helpful tools and libraries such as Selenium and BeautifulSoup. Check out this article on Python web scraping if you wish to dig deeper into the topic.
Notably, a web scraper also relies on the services of a web crawler, which is a bot that scours the internet to identify websites that contain the requisite information.
As such, in intellectual property protection applications, the web crawler goes first. It scours the web looking for websites wherein your products are listed. Thereafter, the web scraping tool extracts this information from the various websites and analyzes it. The analysis process entails discarding data from authorized websites. This step leaves data from unauthorized websites, some or all of which facilitate IP abuse.
It is important to note that web scraping tools do not work well in isolation because websites have measures to stop any data extraction, with the most popular anti-scraping tool being IP blocking. For this reason, you should use web scrapers alongside rotating proxy servers.
A rotating proxy server hides the scraping bot’s server’s IP address and assigns each web request a unique IP address. Alternatively, this proxy works by changing the allocated IP address after some time. Notably, both types of rotating proxies prevent IP blocking, especially bearing in mind that web scraping entails making numerous web requests simultaneously, which spook the web servers causing them to blacklist the IP address responsible for the requests. Simply put, the proxies ensure that the scrapers act human-like.