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At some point in time, most business owners or entrepreneurs will receive a cease and desist letter. While a valid claim is a treat to business owners, these letters are frequently abused for business purposes. In short, a cease and desist letter claims that you are violating someone else’s intellectual property rights. This could be a trademark, copyright or patent infringement. It might be a website domain.

Why do people send them?

At a fundamental level, a cease and desist is a warning letter. It informs a subject that there will be consequences if nothing changes. Like many warning, it is sometimes quite serious. Sometimes it’s an empty threat. A formal lawsuit or a restraining order may follow.

At other times, it’s a business maneuver to learn about the competition. Many letters will request information about the questionable property: how it is used, how many items have been sold, to whom, etc. The party who sent the letter may use this information against you later.

How to respond

A cease and desist letter can look and feel very serious. They use legal language and allege a violation of someone else’s property. Sometimes serious and sometimes frivolous, it’s important to respond carefully to protect your interests. Even if a letter looks like it doesn’t hold merit, ignoring it may be the wrong decision.

While some businesses use these letters as a bully platform, they can also be indicative of serious legal issues. Because the letter is often the beginning of the legal process, your response dictates how the process may play out. It’s important to consult with an attorney to respond to the situation in a way that protects your property without giving unnecessary information to a competitor who may be trying to take advantage.

Warnings can be ominous. Just like a weather storm warning, receiving notice means you should beware that something might be brewing. Awareness, preparation and a defense strategy are the best course of action.