It’s sometimes said that police and lawyers on both sides of the criminal justice system spend their careers looking at the underside of society, often seeing the worst that people can do to each other. But apart from crimes of wrath or passion, the majority of crimes are committed out of greed, desperation or feelings of entitlement to possess money or its fruits which belong to others.

Out of the same paths of perversity, lawyers in certain parts of the general field of business litigation come to learn about how successful businesses can be targeted by those who seek to succeed without always paying for value, or without developing new markets, customers, better products or methods of their own, or in legitimate ways.

Most business litigation falls into the category of collections, in which customers either have a real or invented dispute or often are just unable to pay for goods or services received. But there have always been other kinds of cases in which one party intentionally works in effect to steal part or all of another company’s business assets or operations or both.

These kinds of intentional, wrongful acts are sometimes referred to as “business torts”. They include theft or infringement of trademarks or other intellectual property, inducing contract parties (including key employees) to break their contracts, and interfering in prohibited ways with other parties’ business relationships. Other business torts include unfair competition, such as cyber-piracy, i.e., operation of websites which use names or trade dress resembling those of better-known companies, to divert business to the imitative wrongdoer.

The hallmarks of business torts are that they are directed against a business, for the wrongdoer’s benefit at the expense of an innocent business party, and are thus usually clearly wrongful. Their effects can be so devastating to a small business that business owners should do everything reasonable within their power to guard their employees, assets and operations against them.

A law firm experienced in advising companies of all sizes, types and nationalities can help, by providing clients with up to date legal protection against business torts, by binding employees, business partners and contract parties to enforceable agreements. Another necessary resource is a competent IT provider to protect the company’s online security. Still other resources can be found to monitor the public domain for signs of covert or aggressive activity against a company’s trademarks, workforce, etc.

Such preemptive efforts may not be necessary for every company and they may seem unnecessarily paranoid. That is a matter for the owner’s business judgment but owners should be aware that the amount of relief which the legal system can provide after such an attack is discovered is limited by problems of evidence, other rules of law, and by the after-the-fact nature of what a court can do.

If caught in time, very effective steps can be taken, such as obtaining injunctions to stop certain acts in their tracks. But making a business whole from the injuries suffered as the result of a business tort attack can be difficult, time-consuming and costly, and the often fly-by-night qualities of the attackers do not bode well for their ability to pay damages once the court has ruled against them.

The applicable laws can hold out a better prospect than they are able to deliver. The basic rule of damage in a case where unfair competition has been proved after a trial is the amount which the plaintiff would have made except for the defendant’s wrongful acts. But the law also holds that the future profits of a new business cannot be determined with the certainty necessary to award future profits in a case, and courts usually don’t award future profits for more than three years, if that long.

One benefit a court can award to a successful plaintiff is “treble damages” (multiplying by three the amount of damages proved) as a way of punishing the wrongdoer, when a specific statute allows the court to do so. Depending on the wrongdoer’s solvency and asset-protection preparation, it can be worthwhile to pursue such remedies. But, as in so many other parts of life, the damages recoverable in business tort cases prove that “an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.

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