The Problem With Thinking Anyone Owns Ideas

from the figure-this-one-out dept

We’re always discussing all sorts of intellectual property issues around here — and one of the key problems comes down to the fundamental problem of trying to somehow shackle “ideas” down — as if that were possible. Not only do ideas spread and change and grow — but it’s quite likely that multiple people have the same ideas at the same time. Giving the “rights” to any one person is problematic. For a perfect example, look at a new lawsuit that’s coming to light today. A video game developer is suing gaming giant Electronic Arts, claiming they stole his idea and put it into their popular Madden football video gaming series. He says he presented the idea to EA in late 2003, and now it’s shown up in the latest version — therefore, they must have “stolen” it from him. Of course, the easy response is that the big “idea” wasn’t even that original. It was that, within the game, players could manage a specific athlete, handling all sorts of activities like sports practice, family life and doing home work. Of course, at the same time he was showing of “his” idea to EA, I was actually playing a game that let you do just that — just in baseball, not football. The creator of a (very cool, and extremely addictive) popular baseball simulation game, Out of the Park Baseball, created a sort of “companion” game in 2003 called Inside the Park Baseball, where the idea was that you took on the role of a player, and managed just that player through his career, including things like working out, going out to the bars, family life, etc. That game never really caught on, but does that mean anyone “owns” that idea and can sue over it?

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Comments on “The Problem With Thinking Anyone Owns Ideas”

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small guy says:

have you ever been screwed ?

Mike, I want to ask you a question:
have you ever presented your design to a large
company, heard “not interested in outside submissions” and then saw your design inplemented in the next resealse of the big company’s product ?
Do you know how it feels to be cheated and screwed ?
Apparently, you don’t.
Keep bitching about patent and copyright laws then…

Mike (profile) says:

Re: have you ever been screwed ?

Mike, I want to ask you a question:
have you ever presented your design to a large
company, heard “not interested in outside submissions” and then saw your design inplemented in the next resealse of the big company’s product ?

Funny you say that. Actually I have. When I worked for a small startup a decade or so ago, we went and pitched a well-known large company on an idea, where we would supply the work for them. They said they’d think about it and proceeded to ignore us. A year later, they launched the same thing.

And, you know what? I didn’t have a problem with that. We never should have tried to route through them. We should have just done it on our own and competed directly with them. We could have done a much better job.

So, the real answer to your question is that, yes, I know what it’s like to compete in a business environment, and I understand that no one owns ideas.

Any other incorrect assumptions you want to make?

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: have you ever been screwed ?

Oh yeah, I should also add that in the late 90s I started a company that went around trying to raise VC money for a project that we thought was pretty cool. While we did raise some money it wasn’t enough to really go anywhere and we shut down the firm.

Since then, I’ve seen a number of companies build what we were hoping to build, and raise a ton of money from those same VCs.

Am I pissed? Nope. The VCs were right. Our idea was good, but the timing wasn’t right and we were missing a bit of the expertise that would have been needed. The companies in that space now are doing a much better job of it. Do I think the VCs may have passed on our idea? I doubt they did it consciously, but I certainly see elements of it. But, these other firms were able to execute where we were unable to. Why should I begrudge them of that?

Mike (profile) says:

Re: No copyright violation here

They arent making a claim based on any IP rights, but a violation of an implied agreement not to use or disclose. This really just boils down to a breach of contract.

Yeah, I agree. He doesn’t seem to be claiming copyright on it or anything. But, it’ll be awfully difficult for him to convince anyone that there’s a contract there.

Anonymous Coward says:

No Subject Given

So… if I understand correctly… this guy played ?the sims? one afternoon, and said to himself, between swigs of beer, ?Wow, this would be really great if that animated computer guy was, well, an animated computer guy in a football jersey instead of, ya know, just some guy.?

Then he went and pitched that ?idea? to a video game executive who thought to himself ?Yup, we have seen the sims too, jack-o? and said ?tank you, we will call you… NEXT!?

And now the guy wants to get paid for having an ?idea??

If this were a real idea, I might feel sorry for him.

Just Me says:

My Thoughts

This is EA, the company with the massively popular SIMS franchise, I think this would be a logical outgrowth.

Also, as-near-as-I-can-tell-but-I’m-not-a-lawyer, there were existing games with this ability, even at least one sports game. I don’t think it counts as ‘original’ to take an idea from sim baseball and pitch it as your own in sim football.

Finally, yes, I did have an idea that I’ve just seen on the market. We came up with the idea for a lighted, electronic sign with some pre-programmed phrases for the car back in the late 70’s. Even though the tech wasn’t there yet we realized that it would be too easy to hack it to put in objectionable language, so we dropped it. I’m not insensitive to the little guy, I just don’t think this is the one to take a stand on.

somebody says:

nobody owns an Idea?

Try to tell that to a patent attorney.ha. Since nobody owns an idea, why dont we just close the US patent office. Fact of the matter is, the guy in the article is just sue happy.
while many people can have the same idea at any given time, the people who go through the process of gaining official ownership of the idea are the ones who get the credit, and rightly so.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: nobody owns an Idea?

while many people can have the same idea at any given time, the people who go through the process of gaining official ownership of the idea are the ones who get the credit, and rightly so.

Um. Why? Because they filled out some forms and paid some lawyers they should get a monopoly over an idea that others came up with independently? How is that fair?

Chont says:

Re: Re: nobody owns an Idea?

To the conqueror goes the spoils?
If we regard IP as “territory” that we conquer and need to protect (as we should), then we need
to have a strategy to defend that territory once we assert control over it. Otherwise – sheep to the slaughter. Recommendation: do not take good ideas to those with the power to implement them, rather study how others have protected their ideas and developed them themselves?

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: nobody owns an Idea?

If we regard IP as “territory” that we conquer and need to protect (as we should),

Again, why? This makes almost no sense. Many separate people can come up with the same idea at the same time. That’s not true of “territory” to be “conquered”. Why is it fair to give full control of the idea to one person, when others had the same idea — and perhaps could do much more with it?

Ethan TW says:


Hi guys,
I just wanted to point out that this sort of thing happens in freelance journalism (my field) all the time. That is, ideas are allegedly “stolen” all the time. On one board I read often,, every six months or so somebody brings up an argument about a major magazine or newspaper stealing their ideas. The argument is always the same, circumstantial case: “I pitched an idea to X, and four months later, they ran the same story! I wuz robbed!”
I had that same circumstantial case happen to me at a major newspaper. I pitched them on an idea, they said no, and another section of the paper ran the same story, same angle, three weeks later. I started to get all in a huff about it, but then I pitched an article to a magazine, a trend piece with a very specific angle and three items, and they told me they already had the exact piece in the works. One month later (shorter than their lead time), they ran the same piece, same angle, 2/3 same examples–even a similar headline. But I know it was just coincedence.
So, yes, basically, I think people think they have great ideas all the time that nobody else could, but other people can, and do–all the time.

bigpicture says:

"Opinion" The Problem With Thinking Anyone Owns Id

The owning of ideas issue, and the associated patent and copyright issues has bothered me for some years. Back about a 100 or so years ago this system was probably a plus for progress, because product life cycles (design to development to production to total market penetration to obsolence) were substantially longer than they are today. So 5 or 10 year “product” protection was not unreasonable. But today the useful life cycle of many products is one to two years, and lots of times what was originally a stand alone product, just becomes part of a larger system. (converging technologies) The present system of long term patents and copyright does not support this trend very well. The valid term of patents and copyrights should be shortened and come into public domain much earlier. And if it is just an idea and not a product, it should probably not be patentable or copyrightable at all. Because as noted in the Article, similar or same ideas spring up simultaneously and independently (it can not be asserted that they were stolen) all over the place from China to Australia. The owning of ideas concept is probably not appropriate to progress in this “information” age.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Read an IP Law Primer

While IP isn’t perfect, it should be pointed out that ideas can NOT be trademarked, copywrighted or patented. The EXPRESSION of an idea can be copywrighted or trademarked (i.e. if this guy had actual code), and the reduction of an idea into practice (i.e. an “invention”) can be patented. This guy’s case doesn’t fall under any of these categories, so this will fall under contract law, as someone pointed out above.

And a contract can cover anything two parties mutually consent to. If there is no mutual consent – if the big company didn’t agree to anything – then the guy loses out.

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