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January 15, 2018 Vol. 73 No. 1 Back to Bulletin Main Page

Private Investigators: A How-To Guide on Finding the Perfect Fit and Best Practices in Building a Case (Part I)

The fight against counterfeiters is a collective effort that takes collaboration from all parties. A significant factor in this fight is the use of private investigators (PIs) to build a case and sell it to law enforcement. INTA’s Anticounterfeiting Committee has therefore created this guide as a resource for brand owners to consider when choosing a PI.

Below, in Part I of this guide, Randall Rabenold outlines why you should turn to a PI and how to find the right one.

Part II of the guide will be a members-only resource focused on best practices in building a case, common mistakes, and selling your case to law enforcement.

Randall Rabenold, Vaudra International, Huntersville, North Carolina

Why Turn to a PI?

Early in my career, intellectual property (IP) laws were not as prevalent as they are today. In fact, each time I was asked to begin an investigation, the first thing I did was research whether that jurisdiction had criminal counterfeiting statutes on the books at all. Many did not.

Fortunately, almost all states now have legislation that includes trademark counterfeiting in some way, shape, or form. Notwithstanding those statutes, state and local law enforcement are often inexperienced with IP investigations and evidence gathering. That’s where specialized IP investigators come in.

Rather than relying on law enforcement, companies are often better off placing their first call to an IP PI. A PI is trained and licensed to do detective work, but is not a member of any public police force. IP PIs, of course, also have specialized training and experience in IP matters.

PIs do not hold any greater authority than an ordinary citizen (with the possible exception of being allowed to loiter in a public place while conducting surveillance). What they do possess, however, is knowledge of things like due process of law, the importance of constitutional rights, and the ability to gather evidence in a manner that preserves its admissibility in court. They are also trained to testify competently at trial and, in the case of IP PIs, have the ability to render expert testimony on identifying counterfeit products.

Randall Rabenold began conducting IP investigations in the early 1990s. He has practiced in multiple foreign and domestic jurisdictions, resulting in successful criminal arrests and prosecutions, asset seizures, and civil trials.

Perhaps more importantly, seasoned IP PIs have earned a reputation among law enforcement officers that garners respect and cooperation when the time is right to involve the police. Indeed, a big part of their job is building and maintaining a positive reputation with law enforcement at all levels.

Finding the Right Investigator

In the event your company is faced with a suspected counterfeiter, how do you go about finding the right IP PI? First, if you have worked with a private investigation generalist in the past, contact that person to see if he or she has a trusted referral.

Additionally, you should contact law enforcement to see if they can recommend someone. After all, they’re not going to send business to any investigator who has wasted their time, botched evidence gathering, or violated the law in pursuing past investigations.

Finally, don’t be afraid to interview multiple IP PIs. Get their viewpoint on evidence gathering. See if they are familiar with the confines of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and other privacy laws. Ask for a sample report from another case. Inquire about conviction rates or other indicia of successful investigations. A good investigator will welcome this level of inquiry.

Hiring the right IP PI can make the difference between putting counterfeiters out of commission or not. From the initial evidentiary purchase to their testimony at trial, the competence of your IP PI is critical. The right professional will bring credibility to your brand, and may earn your company lasting goodwill for future actions.

For more information or to request access to Part II of the investigator’s resource on building a counterfeit case, please contact INTA Anticounterfeiting Coordinator, Tiffany Pho, at

Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of items in the INTA Bulletin, readers are urged to check independently on matters of specific concern or interest.

© 2018 International Trademark Association