# Has Anyone Ever Stolen Your Idea?

Has Anyone Ever "Stolen" Your Idea?

It seems fairly common that people at least claim to have had an idea that someone else capitalized on before they could. How many PFers have independantly come up with ideas only to find that someone else beat them to it or maybe even came up with it afterward and wound up using it before they did?

Personally, I came up with a character exactly like Clayface from DC's Batman and even drew a picture of the character that looked exactly like the character from Batman without having ever read a Batman comic book (not that he was particularly imaginative to begin with).

I also came up with the idea of a pulp style detective novel crossed with a fantasy novel before I had ever even heard of Jim Butcher or the Dresden Files.

I am making this thread as part of a response to another thread. So hurry up and post your "stolen" ideas! ;-p

turbo
Gold Member

Oh, yeah. I had ideas designed to streamline product photography and product handling and save tens of thousands of dollars a year in labor and expenses. It was roundly derided by the general manager and the owner's brother-in-law in a staff meeting. Then they went to the owner and presented the ideas as their own, and in the next company-wide meeting, he congratulated them for being so creative and streamlining the handling of product, to make the company more competitive. Nepotism and back-stabbing ruled in that dump - I'm glad I'm out.

Who knows Murray Gell-Mann, who knows George Zweig ? They came up independently, and Zweig first, with the concept of quarks, except that nobody calls them aces as Zweig did and despite the fact that Zweig himself believed from the onset that they are more than a mathematical trick. Zweig's paper died as an internal CERN report. Gell-Mann's paper is one of the ever most quoted.

Many, many, many examples in the fields of fundamental research. I heard a teacher of mine claim that he was present when Landau described Hawking's idea of black hole temperature and Gribov would have claimed "but it's been known for 10 years".

Ivan Seeking
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member

It seems fairly common that people at least claim to have had an idea that someone else capitalized on before they could. How many PFers have independantly come up with ideas only to find that someone else beat them to it or maybe even came up with it afterward and wound up using it before they did?

Many times people either lack the motivation, and/or the resources, and/or the knowledge to design and market a product. In my experience, R&D and marketing costs are the most prohibitive factors in addition to the need for a day job.

Around 1996 I had a close brush with a successful product for the science museum industry. It is a long story - the crux of it is that I stood to make a good chunk of money, but my budget went down the river in a 500 year flood. By the time we had recovered, the idea was well known and the customers evaporated. I finally gave the museum the rights to produce it.

Back around 1985, I had a table-top demo of the Bose Headphones concept. In fact that one actually bothers me a bit. I had a friend and technical partner to whom I described the concept while on a pay phone at a busy restaurant. As I was hanging up, I noticed a very professional looking gentleman next to me who was staring at me with a strange intensity - LASER beam eyes if you will. At that moment, my instincts told me that I had just given away the farm, but of course the likelihood that he is connected to the Bose brand is astronomically small. Still, I have never been able to shake the feeling when I think about it. In any event, the idea had actually been around for a long time and it was just a matter of time until technology made it economically and physically [size] feasible. In my case, it was beyond my level of knowledge at the time to produce more than a crude working model.

Roundabout 1983 I came up with the idea of live pause for TV. It didn't take long to realize that memory was still far too expensive even for a very short pause time [FIFO file] and that it was be some time before it was economically feasible. I also learned that other companies were already waiting for technology to make this feasible.

Back around 1979 I started a company called Compu Cool. The goal was to provide intelligent zone control for air conditioning and heating systems. A number of events conspired to force me to abandon the venture. I simply didn't have enough money, or the time [day job] to pull it off. Also, at that time I didn't have any credit history, so a business loan was out of the question. We had managed to produce a basic system but it never went any farther. My business partner then got married and disappeared for a few years.

There are many more stories, but those were probably my closest big hits. I now make a living in large part by helping other companies to solve technical problems and develop new products.

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Oh, yeah. I had ideas designed to streamline product photography and product handling and save tens of thousands of dollars a year in labor and expenses. It was roundly derided by the general manager and the owner's brother-in-law in a staff meeting. Then they went to the owner and presented the ideas as their own, and in the next company-wide meeting, he congratulated them for being so creative and streamlining the handling of product, to make the company more competitive. Nepotism and back-stabbing ruled in that dump - I'm glad I'm out.

That is a definite disadvantage to working for corporations in general. Your ideas are the corporations ideas, though legally you should have gotten the credit regardless.

I am looking for more 'passive' idea theft. Someone coming up with the same idea you did with out directly 'stealing' it from you [edit: or vic versa].

I'm still sad to hear you had such crappy bosses. I'm sure that if you were still in the industry you could take credit in a resume and challenge them to take you to court if they want to dispute it. Unfortunately it doesn't do much for the views of prospective employers if they already credit someone else.

My step father had similar issues. He was never given credit for being as valuable an employee as he was (though the smart supervisors fought to hold on to him). He was continually passed up for promotion because he did not possess a college degree in engineering even though he became the training wheels for every fresh college grad they hired to take the position that should have gone to him. He eventually had to take night classes to get a degree and pick up a promotion. It may have been better that way though since he now teaches classes part time aswell and seems to enjoy it.

If you or anyone else has read my posts in the Pirates! thread, I want to make clear that I certainly respect the idea of copyright/patent law (being an aspiring writer myself), I just think that it has been perverted to protect corporations over individuals. I made similar comments in the thread regarding copyright and scientific journals.

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Pengwuino
Gold Member

Apparently I was beaten to the punch to it.

turbo
Gold Member

Apparently I was beaten to the punch to it.

Apparently I was beaten to the punch to it.

http://goldismoney.info/forums/attachment.php?attachmentid=65634&d=1236982919 [Broken]

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turbo
Gold Member

Many years ago, I modified a pair of pliers with a slot in one jaw and a semicircular recess in the opposite jaw, so that I could bend guitar fret-wire before installing the frets in the fingerboard. Later, I found an almost identical tool in a luthier's catalog. Given how long fretted instruments have been around, I probably "stole" that idea unwittingly from some luthier who made one for himself over a century ago. Couldn't make any money on an invention like that, anyway. "Honey, I want a pair of custom-modified fret-bending pliers for Father's Day." ;-)

chroot
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member

This has happened to me so many times it makes my head spin.

Back in 1995, when I was in high school, a computer-savvy friend and I came up with a concept we called "distributed document format," in which files would be stored in pieces on many PCs connected to the internet. When someone wanted a copy of the file, the system would use what we called "super routing" to obtain pieces via the highest-bandwidth connections first, falling back to the slower links only as necessary. The idea was to sort of "equalize" the asymmetry of the client-server internet. Instead of relying on a single (possibly slow) server to supply data to a client, an entire group of lightweight "servers" would collectively respond to requests, promising to utilize all of the bandwidth available. We had hopes that the idea would improve the connectedness of the entire internet, effectively making the internet seem faster to everyone on it, without actually increasing its aggregate capacity.

We were still pretty novice programmers, and never managed to build anything beyond simple demonstrations of the idea. Six years later, the BitTorrent protocol was released, which is essentially the same as our "distributed document format." We wanted to have our concept built into the core of web browsers, so that every web page would benefit from it, while BitTorrent is mostly focused on very large files, but it's basically the same idea. We missed out on it.

I also came up with an idea to make a geographically-linked photo site. Users would upload photos of cities, etc., and link them together so that users could "walk the streets" of a city by simply clicking from photo to photo. All of the links would be editable by users, so the graph would become more and more dense as time progressed, in the same way that wikipedia's editors steadily create a better encyclopedia.

I didn't have the time to pursue it (damn you, Stanford), and Panoramio eventually did pretty much the same thing. Then, Google came along and introduced Street View. Street View is not meant to be photographically stunning, but it does a very good job of allowing people to virtually explore cities.

I'm sure I've had other good ideas, but these are the ones I'm most frustrated at having missed. Sometimes, it seems like I do a particularly fine job of missing out on business opportunities.

- Warren

Pengwuino
Gold Member

Nope. I had it written down on a napkin and i was going to send off said napkin to the patent office but I had a cold that day and ended up sneezing all over my idea.

When MP3 players were first hitting the market, I did have an idea though. Back when I had my first and only ever mp3 player, the creative labs m300 or some crap... 32 megs of memory with room for up to 32 more megs using a flash card... I thought "man, wouldn't it be awesome if you could put videos on this and watch your favorite videos as well?". This was years and years before even the ipod without video existed.

I suppose there is a huge difference between just thinking up a cool idea and actually having hte means and knowhow to actually design it to only actually being beaten to it.

lisab
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member

I had the idea of dynamic sound-cancelling headphones back in the 1980s (while studying acoustics in freshman physics), but I bet lots of people have had that idea.

I suppose there is a huge difference between just thinking up a cool idea and actually having hte means and knowhow to actually design it to only actually being beaten to it.

This has actually frustrated me quite a bit. I have come up with ideas for a number of things which I simply do not have the skills to make a proper presentation to a prospective client. There is certainly a difference between having an idea and being able to make it happen. Of course copyright and patent laws have the side effect of making an idea usable only by the first to patent/copyright it as opposed to those most capable of productively utilizing it.

Pengwuino
Gold Member

This has actually frustrated me quite a bit. I have come up with ideas for a number of things which I simply do not have the skills to make a proper presentation to a prospective client. There is certainly a difference between having an idea and being able to make it happen. Of course copyright and patent laws have the side effect of making an idea usable only by the first to patent/copyright it as opposed to those most capable of productively utilizing it.

Hmmm so I should have applied for my 2001 ipod video patent even though i had no way of making it? :D sigh!

Hmmm so I should have applied for my 2001 ipod video patent even though i had no way of making it? :D sigh!

Had you been capable of producing a comperable design then you may have been able to patent it and sit on it yes. Had you been capable of producing a comperable design though you more than likely would have gotten enough attention to have it made or at least bought.

It seems fairly common that people at least claim to have had an idea that someone else capitalized on before they could. How many PFers have independantly come up with ideas only to find that someone else beat them to it or maybe even came up with it afterward and wound up using it before they did?

Haha..story of my life...I can't even count the number of times I've invented a device, started thinking of drawing up a patent, and then found that someone already did it. It probably happens at least 5 times a year.

Who knows Murray Gell-Mann, who knows George Zweig ?

To be fair, there was another time when Gell-Mann was at the Santa Fe institute in the 1950s and got a visit from von Neumann. Gell-Mann was working on schemes for doing computation with faulty components, i.e. error correction to compensate for failing logic gates. A few months later von Neumann gave a series of lectures at Caltech that forever established the core foundation of this discipline; at least he thanked Gell-Mann for "useful discussions."

nrqed
Homework Helper
Gold Member

I had an idea a few years ago about writing a novel in which terrorists would use antimatter to build the most powerful bomb that ever existed. Some of the action took place at CERN, where I have spent a few months doing research. I even started working on it and wrote the first 100 pages or so.

Imagine my disappointment when I read Angels and Demons and Dan Brown was using this very idea. I had to throw out the novel.

smoxh

I have these physics theories of my own that I thought of a while ago. Now I have the equations for them worked out too. Google searches yielded some close results but at least in my searches nobody has discovered and published any of my theories yet except for one article I found. That article came up with a theory exactly the same as one of mine in order to explain fast-moving quasars or something in space, but it didn't go into the theory as much as I did and failed to come up with an equation for it. However, I am still not yet 14, so what should I do? Leave my theories as they are until someone else stumbles along and discovers them? Publish them in a scientific paper? Am I even old enough to do that? lol like Einstein's theory of relativity, things need to be going pretty fast for them to be very noticeable, and I don't have the equipment necessary to detect the miniscule changes at low speeds. (btw, my theories are nowhere as interesting as Eintein's, and I wouldn't feel bitter about having someone else think up my theories and get all the credit for it)

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Danger
Gold Member

It has happened to me a few times. Most of it deals with things that I 'designed' as part of some SF or other that I was writing. Right now, I have a few useful inventions (which would be worth a tonne of money) both in my head and on paper, which I can't possibly afford to build or patent.
The one that truly bothers me, though, is something that I designed when I was 12 years old (1968). It was an electric spaghetti fork. There was a handle containing a battery, motor, and gear train (similar to a Spinbrush, except that they have a different kind of gears). When you push the button, it winds up your spaghetti for you. I then sat back and thought "That's the stupidest idea on the planet." Half a dozen years later, I saw one advertised in a magazine for about $20. OmCheeto Gold Member Yes. I built the device for$17, and it worked perfectly.
I asked my friends if they'd be interested to own one.
All of them said no.
I decided it was not a marketable device.

Then one day I saw one in the store selling for $350. Hmmm..... But I think my friends were correct. Apparently, no one could understand why you would need such a device, and the company went out of business, as I've seen none on the shelves in the last 10 years. I came up with a proof that an operator A is Hermitian iff <Ax|x> is real for all x. My proof is shorter than the 'standard' proof that I have seen in so many math books. Then about 6 months later, I found my proof in a book on QM that had been published more than 20 years earlier. For twenty years at every family gathering I swore that I would design an odor absorbing pad to put in my uncle's underwear. I didn't really take it seriously, someone else did. http://www.flat-d.com/flatdreusable.html MATLABdude Science Advisor I had an idea that would've revolutionized the (tiny little subfield) we were working on, and sped up production by eliminating a bottleneck that others had come up with all sorts of complicated and wacky ways of trying to get around. It was simple, nobody else had described it, and I came up with it one night whilst preparing a meeting agenda for my supervisor the following morning. I was happy as a clam for a few months (even though this was just a small part of my thesis work), and then I accidentally stumbled across a conference proceeding describing exactly what we'd done! I can't really claim they scooped us, since they came up with it when I was in first year undergrad, and they just had never been cited, or found. For some reason, IEEE Conferences get missed by Web of Knowledge / Science. Not sure if that's the case for any other aggregators / databasers. turbo Gold Member Just thought of another one. Defoamer usage in the pulp washers was getting out of hand and costing the mill a LOT of money ($X00,00/year). As a process chemist, I was pretty sure that the system wasn't swinging so badly that we would end up with severe foaming at the washer decks "that" much of the time. There was some funding available to get a portable (cart-mounted) positive displacement metering pump to test some various defoamers (the front-office-preferred solution), and I was pretty happy to get that project because I was fairly sure what the problem was. Over the next 6 weeks or so, I managed to prove that the operators would intentionally overfeed defoamer when a foaming condition arose, and not bother to reduce the feed when the situation resolved. I got the pulp mill manager to install a feedback loop from the variable-speed washer deck drive such that it only feed more defoamer when the deck sped up (poor drainage) and automatically throttled back the defoamer when the deck rotation slowed. I made that guy a hero in the front office. He never thanked me.

Come to think of it, the engineer who implemented the positive feedback loop got recognized for that job, too. Probably took him 10 minutes to whip it together, and took the instrumentation techs days to implement and at least hours to tune.

EnumaElish
Homework Helper

As a grad student I proved an existence theorem, also worked out its numerical mechanics and circulated it pretty much carelessly. I still suspect (but cannot prove) that it helped other people's research, without acknowledging mine.

OmCheeto
Gold Member

For twenty years at every family gathering I swore that I would design an odor absorbing pad to put in my uncle's underwear.

I didn't really take it seriously, someone else did.

http://www.flat-d.com/flatdreusable.html

And there I'd thought of the idea first......

But did yours have two muffin fans and a heat exchanger?

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Office_Shredder
Staff Emeritus