Who owns your idea?

Who owns an idea? The one who thought of it or the one who executes it first? In the famous Facebook case, the Winklevoss twins were awarded a settlement of $65 million – a fair price, one would think for simply having an idea and having done very little to bring it to life. In this case, they needed the considerable programming skills of Mark Zuckerberg to build what became the most successful social platform on earth. While Zuckerberg did play dirty, the twins have attained more fame for their whining rather than winning – competing in the Beijing Olympics. They were so aggrieved about the loss of their ‘golden egg’ it continues to haunt them 8 years later and define their actions. One would think the payout from the Facebook case would be enough to let them sit on a desert island or row away and come up with the next big thing. But they continue to try and extract as much as they can from the single big idea they had. It’s almost as if they believe they cannot come up with another one.

Examples abound in every field about stolen ideas. When John Lasseter of Pixar came up with a script idea for ‘A Bug’s Life’, he bounced it off his former colleague turned competitor – Jeffrey Katzenberg who left Pixar after a spat with Steve Jobs to start up Dreamworkz. Katzenberg, to spite Jobs, launched Antz on exactly the same premise and released it a month before the Pixar film. It completely broke the trust that Lasseter had for his former colleague and friend even though ‘A Bugs Life’ went on to become the bigger hit grossing millions more than Antz . Now, script ideas from Pixar are zealously locked down and no one gets to hear about them till Pixar chooses to open the box and give audiences a peek.

One of the reasons ideas are so precious is because they originate in our heads and then we presume ownership over them. We can’t bear the thought of someone else executing or profiting from what should rightfully have been ours. But the simple fact is that an idea, unless researched, executed, carried through to fruition, marketed and built over several years gets to be just that. A simple thought that holds potential. The fact is that several ideas are available for free on sites like this one. There is no dearth of markets or customers to reach. But once you begin the actual work on the idea, the obstacles begin to present themselves. They could be related to execution, finance, or market acceptance. You never know what could succeed or fail unless you try. So simply having an idea is like having the ingredients to cook a unique dish and expecting that it will cook itself. It just doesn’t happen