Stealing is stealing. It’s punishable by law. But stealing an idea – patent infringement for example, is not punished that much heavier than stealing, for example, clothes or shoplifting. The penalties for these crimes are more or less the same. You’ll have to pay what you stole plus some sort of fee. Except for an idea usually being worth more than a t-shirt, the penalties are relatively the same.
Are the crimes the same? They’re both stealing. But stealing a t-shirt is rather simple and doesn’t take a lot of thinking. There are probably people who’re in a store and just can’t afford something. Stealing is a cheap solution, although not risk-free. It can be a decision of the moment.
Patent infringement, however, is not. You don’t just steal an idea and use it. You’ll have to think it over and find a way to conceal the fact that your company or its product is not original. Preparation is needed to infringe a patent. And with that preparation comes consciousness, you know what you’re doing. Above that, infringing a patent is almost risk-free. It is very difficult to prove that someone stole your precise idea. If you only change an idea a bit it is not the same anymore, and there will be no penalty for the ‘thief’.
Stealing clothes is a more innocent crime. If the person who runs a company and steals an idea is punished heavier for the crime he committed, that would mean that a court would not only look at the crime, but also at the suspect. It would be much more complicated because judging a crime is easier than judging a person. Stealing a t-shirt stands for a fee of, say $200, for every delinquent. The judge can be more subjective on imposing a fee for the suspect who was fully aware of what he did and his motivations for the crime.
This leads to the question, should we judge suspects whether they steal or not, or is it right to judge them based on the intensity of the crime? Stealing is stealing but thieves may not be the same.