The Fear of Idea Theft : Is idea theft a crime?
Every now and then, an aspiring techpreneur contacts me to talk about their new big tech idea that will be the next big thing. Their first order of business is to have us sign a Non-Disclosure-Agreement to protect their big idea that will make them millionaires on exit. Ideas are not worth the paper that you sketch them on and here is why:
1. Idea theft is not a crime
Before Facebook came along, we had Friendster which dethroned MySpace which was then outpaced quickly by the behemoth that is Facebook. At no point did Jonathan Abrams take Mark Zuckerberg to court over his stolen Idea. The same goes for Mxit and Nimbuzz who now exist in the shadow of WhatsApp.
An idea cannot be stolen, and by extension it cannot be defended in a court of law. Idea theft is not a crime and there is no court whether criminal or civil that could ever take such a case. Most people assume idea theft is a crime and you can sue someone over it. This is a false belief.
Only an execution of an idea can be stolen and that is a case that can stand before the courts.
2. How do you know your idea is worth millions?
Most people with “big ideas” know next to nothing about technology trends, or the tech ecosystem. They approach me to discuss their big idea. Most of the ideas are just PayPal redone, or Google-Drive with a few features nobody wants. I am yet to get a pitch of an idea I could dedicate time to developing, as most ideas I have thought of, have already been done or would need hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop. And yes, if you have hundreds of thousands of dollars, then I highly doubt that you’d be talking to me.
Facebook became successful because it existed at the right time, with the right team and under the right circumstances. That period is long gone and trying to copy or otherwise do something similar will only lead to pain and suffering. Also, why bother. WhatsApp already exists, just use it. If you need a specific feature, then get people’s signatures, talk to the developers. They always listen if you have something worthwhile to say.
It is okay to dream, but always wake up and smell the coffee.
3. This attitude induces eye-rolling
Every time someone approaches me to discuss their new tech idea that will dwarf Amazon, I give them half an ear. When they then proceed to state that I should not steal their idea, I then roll my eyes in disappointment.
Every musician, artist, software developer, we all keep tiny notebooks handy always. I have several scattered around the house and office. Every time we come up with an idea, we jot it down, including how best to execute it and the features to add as well as its flaws. Creative minds have so many ideas that they can never implement them all, yours is just another addition to that long list.
Another point to note is that creative minds are always so busy working on their own ideas and polishing whatever they have already published, they don’t have the time to steal your idea.
4. You will have to open your mouth and pitch some day
You can walk around with a lock on your idea but you will unlock it eventually. You will need to market your idea somehow, maybe by creating a website, or a social media post. If your idea is worth “stealing” I could just steal it then. If it has the potential to make millions, then larger companies can take it and publish it way faster than you and out-market you faster than you can say idea theft.
You also need investors, partners, test clients and more. All these are people you will tell about your idea in some form. You need these people’s feedback to validate your idea and to take your idea from zero to one million.