Did a former business partner steal your ideas or customers?

In some ways, a business partnership is much like a romantic relationship. People tend to idealize others prior to entering into a business relationship. They may experience admiration, jealousy or any other of a number of emotions related to their new business partner.

Over time, as with a romance, reality sets in and overpowers the idealized image. You may begin to argue, or you may even realize that you have conflicting concepts for what you want from the business. Dissolving a partnership is never easy, but as in marriage, it is often necessary to end a formal business relationship.

Most of the time, the dissolution of the partnership or the sale of the business to one partner or another ends the issue. Unfortunately, sometimes, former business partners can behave in unethical and illegal manners. This could include the intentional theft of your business secrets or ideas.

You have the right to defend trade secrets and intellectual property

Running a successful business requires substantial investment. You can spend years of your life developing your business, and many more after that developing the best processes, services or products. Years of networking are also often necessary to develop a thorough roster of suppliers, clients and customers.

When you partner with someone in business, you are very likely to share that intellectual property, as well as your trade secrets. Unfortunately, some people will use the information that you share with them to hurt your business later.

If your former business partner is poaching your client, signing exclusive contracts with suppliers or otherwise threatening your business with information they gleaned from you, you may have the right to take legal action over the threat of your intellectual property or trade secrets. Some of your rights will depend on the terms by which you ended your partnership.

However, if your partner has blatantly stolen your contacts, violated a non-compete agreement or the terms of a buyout, this will provide grounds for bringing a lawsuit against a former business partner.

Trade secrets are critical to the success of your business

When someone else steals your concepts, secrets, processes or contacts, they endanger the financial future of your business. Every cent that they make is one that they, theoretically, stole from your company. Thankfully, so long as you are able to prove the theft of trade secrets or the violation of the contract you signed with your partner, you will likely have legal recourse.

You may have to start with a cease-and-desist notice, which is an official letter telling someone to stop behaving in an inappropriate or illegal manner. If they do not or if you already have quantifiable losses related to their behavior, the next step will be to file a lawsuit.

If you believe that you need assistance in protecting your business from someone poaching your ideas or trade secrets, you should speak with a commercial litigation attorney in the near future to discuss your options.