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[P]
Confiscation of an Idea

By randinah in Op-Ed
Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 08:53:27 AM EST
Tags: Freedom (all tags)
Freedom

Meet Evan Brown. He is a fifty year old man from Texas who has been cooking up an idea since 1975. His idea is a solution to a perennial problem in the IT sector - the need to update old mainframe computer software to run on modern computer hardware. 'Upgrade' projects like these are typically time, labor and knowledge intensive, not to mention extremely costly. Yet Evan Brown claims his 'idea' can do it almost automatically, and therefore almost effortlessly.

Evan Brown is sitting on an idea that could potentially make him millions of dollars. There is only one slight problem...


In 1987 Mr. Brown was hired as Senior Member of the Technical Staff of DSC Communications in Plano, Texas. While at work, his thoughts would occasionally turn to his home project, when not thinking about his 'real' work. That's something we all do, isn't it?

When he thought he had perfected his idea, he mentioned it to his managers at DSC Communications and asked if he could begin to develop it on company time.

DSC Communications initially offered Mr. Brown 2 million dollars for his idea. Evan naturally refused, knowing this idea could be worth much, much more, and made a counter-offer of a raise and profit-sharing up to $5 million. DSC Communications retracted their offer, and made the claim that DSC in fact owned the idea, due to a clause in Evan's employment agreement. They demanded that Evan divulge his idea immediately. Evan declined to do so, and was fired. DSC proceeded to sue Mr. Brown, on the claim that the idea did, in fact, belong to them.

The problematic clause in Evan Brown's contract for employment with DSC Communications was this:

(A) I will communicate to an officer of the Company promptly and fully all inventions (including but not limited to all matters subject to patent, i.e., processes, machines, computer programs, etc.) made or conceived by me (whether made soley by me or jointly with others) from the time of entering the Company's employ until I leave, (1) which are along the lines of the business, work or investigations of the Company or of companies which it owns -or -controls at the time of such inventions, or (2) which result from or are suggested by any work which I may do for or on behalf of the Company.

Evan Brown has claimed that his idea was not conceived while working for DSC Communications (it was conceived twelve years prior, as a matter of fact), and has nothing to do with his job description. Despite these arguments, it has been recently ordered in court that Mr. Brown reveal his idea to DSC Communications. He is currently appealing, claiming that he has been "railroaded".

A case like this raises some interesting questions. Who owns Evans thoughts? Granted, his invention is of a technological nature that DSC Communications could make a profit on, and Evan admits to have thought about the idea on work time. Yet it remains that what Evan invented was irrelevant to his position at DSC. What if he had invented something even more irrelevent like, say, a more energy efficient blow dryer? Would DSC be so quick to claim ownership then?

Even if the case makes it to the Supreme Court, and it is decided that Evan Brown must reveal his idea, how does DSC Communications and the justice system intend to extract the idea from an unwilling person? Sure, they could sue him for millions, but Evan is already facing bankruptcy, and this is only the first of what looks like many trials.

What right does a corporation have to demand the thoughts, inventions and ideas of an employee in a contract? Especially when an employee, like Evan, is not hired for the purpose of contributing ideas, as an engineer or scientist is? Mandatory idea sharing seems as implausible a condition of employment as having to sign a document saying you must convert to Christianity, or drive an American made car, or cultivate an interest in Spanish music. No job could force you to do any of these things, so why would we blithely allow employers to rob us of our very thoughts?

Is DSC Communications using the clause in question for its intended purpose? A clause of this nature is intended to squelch insider competition. If a corporation employs an inventor who comes up with a brilliant idea, this corporation does not want to worry about the inventor selling his idea to the highest bidder. But a member of the technical staff that is working on a completely outside project? That seems a little beyond the realm of a corporation protecting its intellectual property. It is more like a corporation usurping the results of their own employees' free-time activity, like vultures descending from above.

Additionally, there is the question of whether Evan has received fair treatment in the courts. You can read more on his website to learn more about his experience with "Texas justice", but as Evan Brown has recently said himself:

I don't know how much money DSC has contributed to Judge Henderson's re-election campaign, but I believe they got their moneys worth. I truly believe that justice is for sale in Texas and our Civil Rights aren't worth the paper they are printed on.

I'm beginning to think he's right.

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Display: Sort:
Confiscation of an Idea | 106 comments (94 topical, 12 editorial, 0 hidden)
When are you employed? (4.12 / 8) (#3)
by Builder on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 10:05:28 PM EST

I got scrod in this style a couple of years back. It wasn't a big deal, but it was enough to make me wary.

As a result I now either cross out the section on intellectual property in my contracts or if the company won't accept that, I have them changed to something like

[blah]developed or conceived on company time using company equipment and only ideas, patents, inventions that pertain to the purpose of the Employee's role within the company

Then I don't discuss things I'm doing at work or work on them using work equipment.

The biggest thing standing against Evan is that he asked to work on it on company time.


--
Be nice to your daemons
My current employer (3.75 / 4) (#4)
by losthalo on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 10:35:41 PM EST

refused to amend the NDA in any way, claiming that it had to be uniform for all employees to avoid claims of discrimination. Any weight to that claim? Losthalo "NOTHING IS TO BE PUT ON TOP OF MACHINES" -sign on vending machines in Wal*Mart break room

[ Parent ]
No weight at all. (5.00 / 4) (#5)
by haflinger on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 11:13:07 PM EST

People can sign contracts with arbitrary terms. That's what contracts are all about.

To show discrimination, it would have to be shown that the company was giving certain classes of employees (e.g., all whites) terms that it was refusing other classes (e.g., all blacks).

Did people from the future send George Carlin back in time to save rusty and K5? - leviramsey
[ Parent ]

Illegal contracts (none / 0) (#84)
by iwnbap on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 10:35:04 PM EST


People might sign contracts with arbitrary terms; that doesn't stop the contract from being unenforcable and illegal.  Suppose I sign a contract selling myself into slavery, or contract a hit man.  Is my contract legally enforceable?  It's not clear to me that a contract of this kind (i.e. over "thoughts generated") is enforceable.

[ Parent ]
tense? (none / 0) (#76)
by seanic on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 04:15:21 PM EST

Scrod?  I've never heard the past perfect pluparticiple of that verb before. :-)
--
"The majority of the stupid is invincible and guaranteed for all time. The terror of their tyranny is, however, alleviated by their lack of consistency" -- Albert Einstein
[ Parent ]
What was he expecting? (3.83 / 12) (#6)
by ShadowNode on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 11:25:38 PM EST

To be paid to work on his idea, and then sell it? If he wanted to do this as an independent project, why did he bring it to his employers attention? I agree that these clauses shouldn't apply to outside projects, but this doesn't sound like an outside project.

They offered him a $2 million bonus, which for most people is very generous, and he stupidly turned it down. I'd fire someone that dumb too...



What he was expecting... (4.00 / 1) (#56)
by randinah on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 05:58:19 PM EST

He never worked on the project at work. All he admits to doing during work hours is thinking about his project.

Everything else was done at home, on his own time. He brought the idea to DSC's attention because he finally thought he had something tangible to work with, and wanted to develop it at work. That is when negotiations started.

2 million may sound generous to you or me, but it's peanuts compared to what his idea may have been worth. And Evan Brown, considering he polished his idea on his own wanted to be paid what the idea is worth, not what sounds like a lot of money right now.


"Why waste time learning when ignorance is instantaneous?"
[ Parent ]
Well, yes he did... (4.00 / 1) (#58)
by ShadowNode on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 08:21:32 PM EST

How is "thinking about his project" not working on it. And if he wanted to develop this himself, why did he ask his employer to pay for its development? We'd all like to be paid what we're really worth, but that's not how capitalism works.

[ Parent ]
Thinking at Work (4.00 / 1) (#59)
by randinah on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 09:31:40 PM EST

Can you honestly say that while you are at work you are only thinking about the task at hand? I can't. While I'm at work my mind drifts off to all sorts of little projects I'm doing in my spare time. Does the company I work for own them?


"Why waste time learning when ignorance is instantaneous?"
[ Parent ]
He should've kept his mouth shut (2.33 / 3) (#64)
by ShadowNode on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 03:41:29 AM EST

Of course ones mind drifts off to personal projects from time to time, but if you want to keep them, don't admit to that.

[ Parent ]
I'm curious (3.00 / 1) (#66)
by trane on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 05:51:13 AM EST

We'd all like to be paid what we're really worth, but that's not how capitalism works.

Why are you defending the corporation's position, which you admit is unfair?

You sound like you're spreading popular cliches of the day. 3-4 years ago, I wonder what your position would have been; 3-4 years from now, I wonder what it will be...


[ Parent ]

You're preaching to the choir... (none / 0) (#82)
by ShadowNode on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 08:39:39 PM EST

I'm not defending the corporation, they're assholes. However, any developer who isn't aware of this issue has his head in the sand. So if he really wanted to work on this on his own, he should have taken precautions to protect himself. It sounds like he wanted to work on this with his employer, and then had a spat over his salary.

Of course my position on many issues was different 3-4 years ago, just as I hope to change in 3-4 years from now. It's called learning.



[ Parent ]
What happened (4.00 / 1) (#67)
by pmc on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 06:26:30 AM EST

All he admits to doing during work hours is thinking about his project.

Everything else was done at home, on his own time.

According to Brown there was no "everything else". The only work done was thinking.

The offer wasn't $2 million, but up to $2 million from the company and 50% of the net profits of the sales to third parties.

[ Parent ]

Holy fucking bejeezus! (3.80 / 5) (#7)
by sticky on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 11:26:14 PM EST

Until I read this article I had completely forgotten that the US actually ELECTS some of their judges. Whoah!


Don't eat the shrimp.---God
Most judges are appointed for life terms (4.33 / 3) (#10)
by leviramsey on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 12:12:19 AM EST

The Constitution even specifies that federal judges are to be appointed for life terms (though the House can vote to impeach and the Senate to remove).

Various states take the same approach (Massachusetts for instance, but as the Massachusetts' Constitution, being the oldest written constitution still in effect in the world was a model for the US Constitution, that's not a surprise, is it?), though several who are on the same constitution since the period 1830-1860 will have, in a Jacksonian approach, have made judges elected to arying degrees.



[ Parent ]
Texas, however ... (4.66 / 3) (#20)
by aziegler on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 09:46:35 AM EST

is one of those backwards states which elects the judiciary, requiring them to be politically active while rendering judgement -- an instant conflict of interest.

-austin

[ Parent ]

Also... (4.00 / 2) (#29)
by riceowlguy on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 11:04:55 AM EST

Texas floods each ballot with as many as thirty referenda each year.  This is because the Texas Constitution, being created shortly after the American Civil War, gives the legislative branch very little authority, so you need the people to directly vote on things like extending the "My house, my horse, my gun" laws to cover improvements to property upon which mobile homes sit.

This is nuts of course; elect qualified people to make laws and then let them handle the responsibility of actually researching the issues.  The TX Constitution needs an overhaul.

"That meant spending the night in the living room with Frank watching over me like some kind of Lovecraftian soul-stealing nightmare creature-Azag-Frank the Blind God of Feet, laughing and drooling from his black throne of madness." -TRASG0
[ Parent ]

Reason #4,193 that Massachusetts is better than TX (2.66 / 3) (#40)
by leviramsey on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 12:40:13 PM EST

We have the best of both worlds: a strong legislature (with a weak governor) and initiative petition (referenda). Ha!



[ Parent ]
Well (2.75 / 4) (#49)
by riceowlguy on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 02:55:34 PM EST

for (i = 1; i < 4193; i++) {
    reasontxbetterthanma[i] = nostateincometax;
}

"That meant spending the night in the living room with Frank watching over me like some kind of Lovecraftian soul-stealing nightmare creature-Azag-Frank the Blind God of Feet, laughing and drooling from his black throne of madness." -TRASG0
[ Parent ]

heh... (4.50 / 2) (#43)
by Work on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 01:03:05 PM EST

you cant get anything done in texas without an election. it quite honestly is the most democratic state in the whole US.

[ Parent ]
contested election (3.00 / 1) (#45)
by elotiumq32 on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 01:53:36 PM EST

I read about a recent judicial election in Texas that was contested.  The election was very narrow and both candidates pushed for recounts.  In the end, the governor had to actually step in and appoint one of them the winner.

Imagine that.

...
______________ yeah whatever
[ Parent ]

Arrghh... (none / 0) (#69)
by RandomPeon on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 08:32:22 AM EST

And the US Supreme Court has just made it much worse. Many states used to have laws that prohibited judges from campaigning about issues or legal theories. In Minnesota, for example, a judicial candidate was not allowed to say "I am pro-life, and I favor a strict constructionist view of the Consitution....". Nope, could only say that "I'm a great guy, I've practiced law for a long time, I have some awards for public service...." so judicial elections were something of a polite fiction - the incumbent always won. Judges always resigned in the middle of the term so their replacements would be appointed.

Of course, to the Reinqhuist court this was a violation of the 1st Ammendment. I'm highly in favor of freedom of speech, but this blows my mind. So now judicical decisions get made on the basis of how they affect one's reelection....

[ Parent ]
GOD DAMN THE FRENCH! (2.29 / 24) (#9)
by thelizman on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 11:46:33 PM EST

Please note: The French telecommunications company Alcatel acquired DSC Communications, Inc. in September 1998 and is continuing to bring this case against Evan Brown.
I knew it. I fucking knew it. Behind every white man getting screwed is a Frenchman going "butuvcoose, say la vee, me sewer".
--

"Our language is sufficiently clumsy enough to allow us to believe foolish things." - George Orwell
This is why I read all contracts thoroughly. (4.75 / 8) (#11)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 12:34:14 AM EST

I saw this same clause in a contract I was expected to sign, and another one that happened to catch creative efforts. I managed to get them to rewrite those clauses to explicitly refer to work I do while on company time - otherwise I wouldn't have signed it.

It was very important to me because I wrote a lot of code, and fiction in my spare time, which isn't something I was willing to take a risk on.

farq will not be coming back

I'm Surprised (1.50 / 2) (#13)
by ry2me on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 12:51:39 AM EST

that a company would rewrite any contract they have, especially for a new employee.  It must have been a small company.

The ones I have worked for provide a "catch-all" clause, stating they have rights over everything produced.  The only way around it is a case-by-case listing at the end of the document that lets you specify what independant projects thay cannot claim ownership of.

It can be quite tedious if one comes from a previous job and has to report every patent and invention they maintain rights for that the company can't claim.  A rewritten contract like yours is preferable, IMO, than these confusing and misleading catch-all agreements.

[ Parent ]

I wonder... (3.00 / 1) (#23)
by Cant Say on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 10:24:23 AM EST

If one were to write something as vague and as meaningless as "algorithims relating to the development of program design" or "linear implementation of modal thought", would that be 'allowed' as falling under personal ownership? I still think Radio Shack owns anything I invent, since their clause pertained to work published up to two years after my employment.

"A quiet milquetoast who wears cardigan sweaters and enjoys billiard matches while sipping single-malt whiskey." --kitten
[ Parent ]
That's what I did (none / 0) (#75)
by KOTHP on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 03:43:23 PM EST

The last job I worked had a general IP clause, and then an attachment on which I was to list exempted 'previous works'. I included a long list.

Each item began with the specific title of a project, but was then described in increasingly broad terms, until in the final sentences it got ridiculous and ended up being essentially 'stuff I'm working on'.

I doubt any of it ever saw the eyes of even an HR goon, let alone an engineer or attorney. So I guess it was a 'success'.

Unfortunately, I have yet to find my multimillion dollar invention, so the whole exercise in silliness has not been tested.

[ Parent ]

agreed (4.00 / 2) (#28)
by Phantros on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 10:57:34 AM EST

Yes. Read before signing, don't sign your rights away. By the wording of his contract I believe that the company does own the product because of clause (1).

Another basic is to keep a log. This is a common practice in both scientific experimentation and invention.

Lastly, if someone offers you $2,000,000 for an idea, take it (for 99% of ideas, there are a few exceptions of course). Yes, the idea may be worth more than that; the inventor rarely gets what an idea is worth, just as authors and musicians only get pennies from the sale of their works.

4Literature - 2,000 books online and Scoop to discuss them with
[ Parent ]

Some confusion (4.88 / 9) (#12)
by ry2me on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 12:47:54 AM EST

Though the website (which is clearly biased towards Evan Brown) states that all Evan has is his "idea" (a thought in his head), we don't actually know to what extent he actually worked on this - in essence producing a product.  Did he write anything down on paper, produce any spreadsheets, create any graphs, do any research using DSC equipment?  If so, it is completely legal (and I support such a decision) for the company to go after him.

I face a similar situation.  I have been working on a product for the last 18 months or so with a partner, and we are nearing the finishing line where we will sell our product.  I have crossed every T and dotted every I as I went through.  This includes notifying my company of my invention, asking them to sign, on paper, stating they have no claim to it.  I have even gone on so far as to work with my company to test my program on their equipment, always getting contracts written by competent lawyers and signed by the necessary people.

Folks, when you want to play the game, you have to abide by the rules.  Always make sure you are legally protected if you ever decide to embark on an independant project.

Agreed but... (4.00 / 1) (#22)
by bayankaran on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 10:10:34 AM EST

...yours is a case with necessary resources.

And I hope after all your effort of crossing every T, dotting every I, getting legal contracts signed you have still time for designing a useful product.

[ Parent ]
Just a little.. (4.00 / 1) (#55)
by randinah on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 05:53:31 PM EST

FYI - all Evan Brown admits to doing during office hours is 'thinking' about his idea. Just like I sit at work and think about what I might like to make for supper.


"Why waste time learning when ignorance is instantaneous?"
[ Parent ]
Question (none / 0) (#79)
by trane on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 05:53:45 PM EST

If so, it is completely legal (and I support such a decision) for the company to go after him.

would you do the same, in the company's position?

[ Parent ]

Inventor's Notes (4.77 / 9) (#14)
by emad on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 01:59:19 AM EST

If this guy, like most people who expect to patent their work, kept a proper set of notes which detailed the invention conception and his ideas, it would have gone a long way to help him in the case he just lost. For one, it would have documented the date of conception.    
Instead the poor guy neglected to keep one and on top of that decided to represent himself in court. On top of that, he brought the invention to the attention of his company.
That's three strikes.

Remember folks, keep a set of notes, don't represent yourself, and if it has nothing to do with your company, dont get the company involved.

If you had a set of notes on this (4.50 / 2) (#19)
by Eight Star on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 09:27:49 AM EST

would you submit them as evidence?

[ Parent ]
Yes! (none / 0) (#25)
by haflinger on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 10:29:36 AM EST

You would indeed. That kind of log is incredibly valuable.

Did people from the future send George Carlin back in time to save rusty and K5? - leviramsey
[ Parent ]
but then (3.00 / 1) (#41)
by Eight Star on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 12:49:32 PM EST

It's in the open, and if it's not patented yet, you may very well be completely screwed.

[ Parent ]
You would submit them as evidence... (5.00 / 1) (#42)
by haflinger on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 12:55:38 PM EST

to the patent examiner, of course, silly. :)

When you're getting a patent, all the submissions of evidence you make don't count against you.

Did people from the future send George Carlin back in time to save rusty and K5? - leviramsey
[ Parent ]

Non-issue (4.37 / 8) (#18)
by pmc on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 08:22:48 AM EST

The problem with Mr Brown's case was, I think, that there was absolutely no documentary evidence to back it up. If you had been developing an idea for 20+ years I think that most people would find it incredible that you have no written records at all about it.

The second problem was that the solution that he claims seems to definitely be smack bang in the middle of the company's line of business - he was, after all, trying to sell it to them. So he is only not in violation of the contract if, on the balance of probabilities, he started work on the idea before his employment started.

This, to me, is a no-brainer. I cannot believe that anybody can work on an idea as complicated as a cross complier for 20 years without writing anything down (and I quote from his website - "Over the past twenty years or so, Brown has been mentally formulating a way to convert old computer code into new languages" - emphasis added). No notes, no sketches, no block diagrams with arrows going everywhere, no sample code, no test cases - nothing.

There is an interesting philosophical question of "Who owns an unexpressed idea?", but I think in this case the idea was expressed as soon as he attempted to sell it to his employers.

Good reasons not to write anything down (2.66 / 3) (#21)
by acheon on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 10:01:29 AM EST

=>Why do so when you can work from your mind directly ?
=>Waste of paper
=>Waste of time
=>Details may change a lot -- by the time you write down something you just have thought of something better
=>Your thoughts are much harder to sneak in or steal than paperwork

I am myself cultivating large scale innovations in my basement and I haven't written anything down except unusable gribbish only I can understand.

[ Parent ]

Why should the burden of evidence be on him? (4.00 / 1) (#33)
by MfA on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 11:38:45 AM EST

Even so ... on the one hand we have his sworn testimony, on the other we have suspicions. I dont quite see how that would weigh up in anything but his favour, but I guess the amount of money spent on lawyers can put some weight in the scales where evidence can not.

[ Parent ]
Burden of Evidence (4.00 / 1) (#37)
by pmc on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 12:19:26 PM EST

The burden of evidence is not on him. It is up to both sides to present evidence and then for the court to determine which account is more probable ("The balance of probabilities"). There are two possibilities (assuming that the idea exists) - He invented it before 1987 when he started work for DSC, in which case it is his; or he invented it after, in which case it is DSCs.

There is no evidence other than his unsupported statement that he invented it before 1987.

There is the evidence in his Employee agreement (specifically where he said that he owned or controlled no discoveries) that he came up with the invention after 1987.

There is also the absence of evidence for early invention - the man is a self-proclaimed code genius. He has had an idea that would potentially (allegedly) be revolutionary for software. What does he do? According to him - nothing substantiatable; he sits and thinks about it for 20 years (just long enough to push it back to his university days, fortunately enough, which is notable because TI and Time Energy may have had something to say if he'd come up with the idea in 1979 or 1983, for instance). Not even one line of code to test his idea - it's simply not credible.

[ Parent ]

Idea's are not owned or controlled (4.00 / 1) (#39)
by MfA on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 12:33:26 PM EST

You will not overturn a patent by claiming you had the idea in your head, even if he had kept a log that would give him no control or ownership over it without public disclosure and timely patenting.

There is only one piece of real evidence in the whole case, and that is the guy's own testimony ... the rest is just conjecture.

[ Parent ]

Lots of Evidence (4.00 / 1) (#44)
by pmc on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 01:48:26 PM EST

There is only one piece of real evidence in the whole case, and that is the guy's own testimony ... the rest is just conjecture.

There is plenty of documentary evidence - Brown's offer, DSC's proposal, Brown's counterproposal, the IP agreement Brown signed when he started saying he had no discoveries that he controlled are just some of the documents available. None support his 20 year gestation period for an idea.

[ Parent ]

None of it relevant (3.00 / 1) (#46)
by MfA on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 02:34:53 PM EST

to the question of the age of the idea.

The IP agreement is meaningless, someone could patent the idea today and neither he nor Vivendi could do a thing about it ... so clearly he has neither control nor ownership of it, it is not intellectual property.

[ Parent ]

Oops (3.00 / 1) (#47)
by MfA on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 02:35:53 PM EST

I meant Alcatel of course.

[ Parent ]
Well, some of it will be relevant. (none / 0) (#52)
by haflinger on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 03:38:48 PM EST

The documents may help to establish a timeline.

BTW, you can't patent ideas: you have to patent the implemented form of the idea. I suspect the trick in this case is that there isn't a patentable invention yet.

Did people from the future send George Carlin back in time to save rusty and K5? - leviramsey
[ Parent ]

My Car (5.00 / 1) (#51)
by bouncing on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 03:19:01 PM EST

but I think in this case the idea was expressed as soon as he attempted to sell it to his employers.
So the act of trying to sell something means that you give it away if no agreement is reached? I think not! A Subaru dealer tried to sell me a WRX a few weeks ago. I made an offer, he declined. He made an offer, I declined. Does that mean I own the car? Hardly. The contract is void in my humble opinion because it infringes on his basic human rights -- the right to think freely.

[ Parent ]
Erm... (5.00 / 1) (#72)
by pmc on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 02:26:40 PM EST

Subaru dealer tried to sell me a WRX a few weeks ago. I made an offer, he declined. He made an offer, I declined. Does that mean I own the car?

No - it means the car exists.

[ Parent ]

Seizing the products of the mind (4.40 / 5) (#24)
by Cant Say on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 10:26:53 AM EST

How can anyone take, by force, the products of the mind?

"A quiet milquetoast who wears cardigan sweaters and enjoys billiard matches while sipping single-malt whiskey." --kitten
Paging Ms. Rand (2.50 / 2) (#36)
by Irobot on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 12:11:36 PM EST

Oh, there you are. Never mind...

Irobot

The one important thing I have learned over the years is the difference between taking one's work seriously and taking one's self seriously. The first is imperative and the second is disastrous. -- Margot Fonteyn
[ Parent ]

Its good that he didn't record anything on paper (4.25 / 4) (#32)
by skiingyac on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 11:25:12 AM EST

If he had, he'd be screwed right now.  With it all in his head, they company can't prove anything other than that he talked to them about an idea he had, nor can they require him to disclose the contents of his brain.

Now, he can say he doesn't remember the details of his idea and just drop the whole thing.  No one can prove whether or not he has forgotten, perhaps due to the stress of the whole thing or maybe he forgot on purpose.

At the very worst, he can say "Fine, nobody gets it", or he can wait a little while and come up with a new, better idea based on his old one.

If he claims to have completely forgotten the idea, and then a few years later develops the same idea again, when then?  If he claims that the re-invented idea wasn't influenced by his previous invention of it that he completely forgot about, what can they do?  There's certainly very little then could prove.

Depending on the circumstances, it might have been better for him to write some things down before he started working there, but if he knew that the judges were bought and paid for then maybe he made a wise move.  Who knows.

Balance of probabilities. (none / 0) (#53)
by haflinger on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 03:44:58 PM EST

Written evidence makes it easier, but the test in civil cases is the balance of probabilities, not beyond a reasonable doubt.

What that means is, all they have to show is that the odds are that he's withholding their property, and they can get an order to seize it.

And if he refuses, they can get an order sending him to jail.

Did people from the future send George Carlin back in time to save rusty and K5? - leviramsey
[ Parent ]

Jail time and Civil Trials (none / 0) (#83)
by Kintanon on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 08:56:19 PM EST

No, they can NOT get an order sending him to jail from any result of a Civil trial. You are seriously misinformed if you believe otherwise. A civil court can award damages, etc... but can not send you to jail. All they can do is order him to turn over the idea. At which point he can tell the people anything he bloody pleases, and claim that's the idea.

Kintanon

[ Parent ]

The best solution is... (3.50 / 2) (#54)
by Kindaian on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 05:17:49 PM EST

a) forget the whole idea

b) agree with the court that he won't develop a likewise idea in a stipulated period of time

c) solve the problem out of court

d) change profession and become a orchidea farmer

e) all of the above

f) none of the above

Cheers...

[ Parent ]

The other problematic clause (3.80 / 5) (#34)
by pmc on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 11:49:44 AM EST

The problematic clause in Evan Brown's contract for employment with DSC Communications was this: (A) I will communicate to an officer of the Company promptly and fully all inventions yadda yadda yadda

The other problem is clause E, which says in part "All discoveries owned or controlled by me, in whole or in part, as of the date of this Agreement are listed below." to which he replied "None". So not only does he have no documentary evidence that he was working on the idea before his employment, there is documentary evidence that he wasn't working on the idea beforehand.

I've also just been reading though the man's web site. I can't say I'm surprised that DSC told him to take a hike - his demands if they wanted to develop it were absurd:

DSC will pay the patent costs, but both parties will co-own it.

Brown will not sell it to third parties that are in direct competition to DSC (whoopee)

Brown will be given a promotion, a salary of $120,000 (plus benefits), a signing on bonus of between $20,000 and $40,000 (despite the fact that he worked there).

DSC will also provide a quiet office and $40,000 worth of computer equipment

DSC will pay Brown 5% of the savings from code conversion up to $5 million.

Brown will pay 50% of third party markets to DSC up to $10 million, after which Brown gets everything, including the patent.

Oh, and if Brown has to work over 40hrs per week on this project, he'll get paid overtime.

Amazing they didn't go for it, isn't it? The other odd thing is that in all the early documents that I've looked at on his website there isn't a claim that Brown came up with the idea before his employment commenced. The closest thing to it is his statement the the problem was first mentioned to him in 1975, which is quite different.

Counter-offer versus Demand (4.66 / 3) (#38)
by randinah on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 12:32:07 PM EST

What you just described was Brown's counter-offer. It was not a demand. It's called negotiating. One party aims low, the other party aims high, and hopefully they meet in the middle if one party doesn't go sour.

At least, that's the way it's supposed to work, but rather than play fair, DSC Communications sued Evan Brown, and even if the outcome in the end is the reward of the idea to DSC, they'll never get it. They will also never get any money out of Evan Brown. It seems kind of trite to sue somebody when you know the best you will get is the other party in debt.


"Why waste time learning when ignorance is instantaneous?"
[ Parent ]
Sueing vs. Saying No (2.50 / 2) (#50)
by bouncing on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 03:15:18 PM EST

Amazing they didn't go for it, isn't it?
If the idea is as good as it sounds like, no it isn't amazing. What is amazing is that they have the arrogence to even suggest that they have any claim whatsoever to his idea. They are 100% wrong, he is 100% right IMHO. If I had the CEO of DCS right here, I would spit in the sunofabitch's face. Corporate Wrongdoing is redundant.

[ Parent ]
they must have know it's a stretch (4.50 / 2) (#63)
by Mclaren on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 02:38:20 AM EST

If they were so sure it was legally theirs, they wouldn't have offered him 2 million for it. Why pay someone when it's already yours? Because they know it's a stretch to sue this guy. They forgot something tho: this is Corporate America, where corporations have so many more resources that the scales are always tipped in their favor.

[ Parent ]
Question (none / 0) (#80)
by trane on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 06:06:41 PM EST

I wonder how his requested compensation package compares to the company officers or sales managers?

Why are so many of you so eager to take the side of the corporation on this issue?

[ Parent ]

Easy Solution.. duh... (2.00 / 5) (#48)
by vile on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 02:41:43 PM EST

"OOPS I FORGOT."

~
The money is in the treatment, not the cure.
Works for politicians. nt. (none / 0) (#81)
by trane on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 06:07:24 PM EST



[ Parent ]
n/t.... (2.00 / 2) (#85)
by vile on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 10:45:57 PM EST

oil.. yes.. oil.. I have no ties to.. uhm.. wait a second.. ok holdon.. war.. I don't want to.. wait a second... hmm... iraq... crush them... why? uhm wait a second... let me think about this... uhm... uhm...

~
The money is in the treatment, not the cure.
[ Parent ]
Who has a right to take what? (4.40 / 5) (#57)
by RosaRL on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 06:49:40 PM EST

.

The system constantly backs the buck. It seems to me that in this case, the company gets the backing while the creator gets railroaded, yet when defending the creator is in the interest of those who have the money, such as in the Napster case, the creators- or artist "property rights" are defended which is really nothing more than defending a company like Soney Music's right to make a buck rather than the individual artists getting tons of free advertising.

Even worse, thousands die for lack of access to affordable medications because big drug companies have the claims to the intellectual property rights associated with those drugs despite the fact that millions of dollars in public funding often goes into the research and development.

Overall I question if anyone can own an idea or should be able to own an idea. This is not to say that I think this man should be forced to turn over the contents of his skull, but rather that the concept of ideas being property actually retards the development of technology and innovation.

Furthermore the only ideas that anyone wants to set claims to are those which can be profited off of - thus we don't see anyone desperate to go to court to defend their patent for a perpetual motion machine that just doesn't work. Thus the whole profit motive itself is a bar to innovation.



Patent Expiration (3.00 / 1) (#77)
by SEWilco on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 05:07:09 PM EST

"... the concept of ideas being property actually retards the development of technology and innovation."

That is exactly why the Constitution places a time limit on patents and copyrights. This was a compromise between "no patents" and "protected forever".

[ Parent ]

What? (2.00 / 1) (#95)
by icastel on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 03:21:47 PM EST

Overall I question if anyone can own an idea or should be able to own an idea. This is not to say that I think this man should be forced to turn over the contents of his skull, but rather that the concept of ideas being property actually retards the development of technology and innovation.

If you came up with it, it's yours. No room for questioning that. How exactly does "owning" an idea hurt development of technology and innovation? That, RosaRL, is B.S.




-- I like my land flat --
[ Parent ]
The idea is...... (2.20 / 5) (#60)
by gnovos on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 12:56:03 AM EST

CHILD PORN!  Here you go, here is the idea that you COMPLETELY own...  have fun in jail DSC.  Oh, and I just had an even better idea just right now, and that one is worth millions.

A Haiku: "fuck you fuck you fuck/you fuck you fuck you fuck you/fuck you fuck you snow" - JChen
I always thought (3.00 / 3) (#61)
by auraslip on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 01:16:16 AM EST

that you couldn't sign away your "rights" (whatever the right to own your own ideas is), and that they were inaliable(sp?)?
124
Contract law. (none / 0) (#68)
by haflinger on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 08:19:26 AM EST

You can promise to perform any legal action in a contract.

Explaining an idea to someone is a legal action.

Did people from the future send George Carlin back in time to save rusty and K5? - leviramsey
[ Parent ]

sure (none / 0) (#96)
by auraslip on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 01:54:00 AM EST

you can promise too, but does that mean you legally have too?

124
[ Parent ]
just messin' with ya!! (2.00 / 4) (#62)
by Mclaren on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 02:29:35 AM EST

when this is all over, this guys gonna admit he has no idea, and that it was all an elaborate hoax

Game Theory (4.33 / 3) (#65)
by number33 on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 04:39:10 AM EST

People have expressed doubt that this guy actually has a working idea at all, given that there is no documentation. My question is, what does he have to gain by attempting to negotiate a deal which he can't fulfill? Obviously DSC would not be stupid enough to fork over the money, promotion, etc. without having solid proof that his idea was workable.

He had a job, a career, and now he's been fired. What else would have been the result of telling your employer that you have some seriously wiz-bang idea that you would negotiate with them for, only to fess up later and tell them you never had it? Why would he be stupid enough to upset a steady income by initiating a hoax? Maybe he wants to be a martyr, but there's not nearly enough evidence to warrant that conclusion.

At any rate, even if Evan is on the wrong side, the issue at hand is still overarchingly important.

There is a difference. (none / 0) (#73)
by pmc on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 02:32:40 PM EST

I doubt that the guy has a working idea, simply because it has never been tested. I don't doubt that he believes that he has a working idea.

[ Parent ]
Nevertheless... (none / 0) (#74)
by number33 on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 03:20:31 PM EST

we don't know for sure. Surely any computer scientist can attest to having formulated a workable idea completely in his head at least once? At any rate, even if the idea is unworkable in its present form, it may still be useful, either through testing and tinkering or by way of other applications and reformulations.

Until the idea is actually revealed (if ever), skepticism is just skepticism and doesn't have much bearing on the legal ramifications of this issue. I think it's in our best interests to debate the issue at hand and not spend our time squabbling over something we cannot prove or disprove. I think most of us would agree we have a greater stake in the policy that results from this situation than we do in the situation itself. I would think.

[ Parent ]
I had a discussion about this with a friend (3.25 / 4) (#71)
by Waste of Time on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 01:57:12 PM EST

I was discussing this kind of scenario with a friend. Note, that the situation concerning technical innovations was hypothetical.

I told him that I would never sell my idea for the silly ~ 2000 USD one-time price which is the policy in Corporation I work as a part of. You get some more money if the idea really is big and ends up as a product. The total amount of money in question lies somewhere near the 4000 USD mark, perhaps even more.

That kind of money is peanuts for a multi-million dollar business. I think that such a deal is extremely bad from the employee's (my) point of view. What to do, then? I told my friend I'll stay quiet. I will not give someone, who doesn't deserve it, big bonuses because of my idea, while receiving some pocket change in exchange. And that's it.

Also, I do not do my own projects on company time, using company computers. Doing so would be the first cardinal sin. Second, I do not discuss my ideas with the people who I work for. That's the 2nd cardinal sin. I told my friend that since Corporations demand full separation from your other daily activity (such as sleeping during the day) and hobbies or other such activity, such as walking outside to clear your thoughts, it is only fair that you take the separation to the extreme: when you're at work, do only the work, and nothing more. Do not exceed yourself, as you will not get rewarded for doing so.

My business-oriented friend then had the opinion that my ideas belong to the Corporation almost always, and that it is very difficult if not impossible to show that I had done everything on my own time. My friend then gave me a presentation about the theory of economy. My friend had a point, and we concluded the discussion to that.

But I quietly thought onward. I saw the entire thing as a game, and there are some rules in the game. The best way to beat the game is to not play at all! Once you play, you have lost, unless you've millions of money and a lot of power to back yourself up. I don't.

So, I came to a sort of revelation about the whole issue. I realized, that the best way to play the twisted game and to at least get even is to do your work and nothing more, get the salary you're paid for and that's it. No overtime, no innovations, no "sacrifices" for the Corporation. Don't be rude or anything to the people who you work with regardless of their position, just be businesslike. Be businesslike, but nothing more. Honor the NDAs. Don't take calls outside working hours, unless you get paid for it, and the amount of payment suits you.

The Corporation is not made for me, I do not benefit from it anything more than what I get to my account monthly. There's nothing more in the Corporation for me. I do not get bonuses, I do not own parts of the company, there is no incentive to do anything more. However, the Corporation needs many people like me in order to survive. Other Corporations need me, too, because I am a consumer. They need my money. I need the Corporation to pay rent and buy food. But that doesn't mean I have to like it.

If the system you're in doesn't work for your advantage, then step out of the system. Be the system social pressure, the Society, a Corporation, or whatever, if you stop playing the game, you can't lose in the game. That was my revelation. Yes, I've read my Ayn Rands but she wrote from the point of view of the people who own the business, who are at the top, not the guy crawling in the trenches. But why not take her excellent ideology there, to the trenches, too?

-- Walk freely, undisturbed.

Creativity suppressor (none / 0) (#78)
by seanic on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 05:41:58 PM EST

This type of standard IP assignment policy hurts business and stifles innovation.  What corporate and government don't understand is why so many employees seem to be mindless drones.  The incentive to work above and beyond the required duties is removed.  I find it ironic that the intent of the patent system was to encourage creativity and the implementation has achieved the opposite.  The IP contracts which are required by most companies and government agencies is in desperate need of a rewrite or there needs to be a correction made in IP law.

About the best we can do is apply for a patent in our children's name, just have to wait until they can read.  Yeah, I know, but the kid will get it all in the end anyway but that's what a trust is for and it has a bonus, it avoids estate taxes when you pass on.  Imagine, sticking it to the boss and the IRS.  Hey, I can dream can't I.
--
"The majority of the stupid is invincible and guaranteed for all time. The terror of their tyranny is, however, alleviated by their lack of consistency" -- Albert Einstein

Check out the initial offer (none / 0) (#99)
by GavinWheeler on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 06:00:21 AM EST

Cetainly, if all your ideas will be taken by your employer and you get zilch, that will not encourage you to be creative.

But check out what this guy was offered initially. Four months (with salary) to work on his idea, and if it turned out to be worthwhile, up to $2 million from internal saving and (apparently) unlimited revenue from a 50% split of all profits made from selling the idea externally. He would take no risk whatsoever, and would end up independently wealthy if his idea was even a fraction as good as he claims it is.

Compare this to the independent inventor who has to pay his own rent and materials, does not have the support of company resources and patent lawyers, takes a significant risk of ending up bankrupt rather than rich, and would still end up only owning part of his company unless he can get all of his start-up capital from some sort of government grant.

[ Parent ]

contracts (none / 0) (#86)
by turmeric on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 12:45:35 AM EST

IT people are generally cowards who feel lucky to have jobs in the first place and are incapable of earning a living in any other way. that is why they will do just about anything short of cutting their limbs off to please the big boss man. it is also why IT has never organized itself to fight idioicy like the ITAA, the RIAA, etc etc etc. maybe enough crap like this will start giving IT the incentive to get some guts, but i doubt it, as the managers will realize they are sitting on a timebomb and figure out some more carrots/sticks to feed the hamsters (IT workers) that make the little wheels turn.

as for the rest of it, well, it -IS- texas after all, where they are still sort of wishing for the comeback of slavery from this whole 'freedom fad thing'

The price of greed (5.00 / 2) (#87)
by GavinWheeler on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 07:48:29 AM EST

It sounds to me as though Mr Brown just got greedy. He wanted his employer to take all the risks while still giving him the lion's share of the profits.

DSC Communications initially offered Mr. Brown 2 million dollars for his idea. Evan naturally refused, knowing this idea could be worth much, much more, and made a counter-offer of a raise and profit-sharing up to $5 million.

$2 million is a very generous offer indeed for an undeveloped patentable idea - and from his website it seems that the deal was actually 5% of internal savings (up to $2 million) and 50% of any income from external sources, such as licensing the idea to third parties. From the wording it seems that the $2 million limit was only on the payment on [i]internal[i] savings.

So the company offered him what would have been an extremely generous offer even if made to an outsider, let alone an employee who had signed his patent rights over to the company. This is understandable - companies naturally try to encourage innovation in their employees. But when he replied to such a generous offer with a ridiculously over-the-top demand, I can certainly understand the company deciding to enforce its rights.

Getting an idea from the initial concept to a physical product is arguably the hardest and riskiest part of the process. You have to write the patent (a tricky and often expensive process to do right, avoiding existing patents), do the initial marketing (working out how big the market is and how best to address it, and also getting hard facts to support a valuation of the idea), write a businessplan (straightforward but tedious, dull and time consuming), get funding (not as easy as you might think) and do all the nitty-gritty of developing the idea into a working demo. Only then can you really begin thinking about getting something you can manufacture and sell. This all takes a huge investment of time and money before getting any returns, and may well bomb out for a number of reasons without ever giving you a penny in return.

It is entirely natural that the people who take that risk and do that work should take much, if not most, of the profit, yet most inventors seem to feel that they have done virtually all the work, and that now it is just a case of letting the money roll in. As a result, inventors regularly have hugely overinflated ideas of how much money they should get.

If you want to keep the lion's share of all profit to be made from your idea:

  • quit your job, without mentioning your idea
  • wait six months or so. You could spend this time doing market research on your idea, writing up a business plan and initial patent filing, or looking through journals and patents for any prior art you need to be aware of.
  • submit an initial filing - this can be done for free, and needn't be written to the standard of a final patent as long as it accurately captures your idea and as many embodiments as possible. You have 12 months to submit a final, properly written patent, but your priority date will be the time of submitting the initial filing.
  • have a patent search done, this can cost as little as 130, although that takes about 6 months to get a reply at the moment.
  • start a company and get funding from business angels, venture capitalists or even government grants.
  • producing a 'working prototype' or other proof-of-principle demo (dunno how that would work with this particular idea)
Before these steps are taken, anyone buying your 'idea' has no means of knowing whether the idea is actually worth anything or not. It may be unworkable, or unpatentable because some innocent academic speculated about a similar idea in a published article. So you have no basis to tell your buyer that the idea is worth $X million. After you've doen all this, you have a commercially valuable 'thing' (an initial patent filing), techical proof that it works and market data to show how much it is worth.

Bear in mind that you are more likely to end up bankrupt rather than rich - Venture Capitalists expect to write off 80% or so of their investments, and that is after a rigorous due diligence.



greedy? so is the company (3.00 / 1) (#94)
by gps on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 03:05:09 PM EST

they changed their mind and decided that they wanted it all to themselves (ie: the board of directors and legal council would benefit the most).  what would have prevented them from suing him for their $2 million + "damages" back citing the employment agreement later?

[ Parent ]
Companies are supposed to be greedy (3.00 / 1) (#98)
by GavinWheeler on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 05:49:02 AM EST

Making money is what companies do.

Nor are the board of Directors the greedy ones - they just do what the shareholders tell them to. In fact (AIUI) they can actually be jailed if they deliberately choose anything other than the most profitable course of action, without a clear mandate from the shareholders. The shareholders, of course, being you and me - if you have a pension fund, and chose the pension fund that gave you the biggest return as opposed to one with a humanitarian or environmental portfolio, then you are (part of) the villain of this story.

It's too easy to blame the fat cats on the board - in fact, they only take the blame because they are paid to do so. If you want humanitarian, environmentally sensitive big companies, then you have to change the spending and investing habits of the people on the street, not the people in the boardroom.

Getting back to Mr Brown, the company made him a generous offer and only sued after he had rejected it. If he had accepted that would have superceded the employee agreement (AIUI&IANAL).

[ Parent ]

So are people (nt) (5.00 / 1) (#102)
by randinah on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 04:25:34 PM EST


"Why waste time learning when ignorance is instantaneous?"
[ Parent ]
People have free will (none / 0) (#104)
by GavinWheeler on Wed Aug 21, 2002 at 04:44:22 AM EST

People aren't 'supposed' to be anything, IMO, they choose for themselves. It is reasonable to expect an individual to occasionally choose an option which is not the most profitable (legal) option, for emotional or ethical reasons - but a company director has an obligation to take the most profitable (legal) course for his shareholders. So while it might have been reasonable to expect a self-employed individual to allow one of his employees to retain an idea despite an employee argreement (for moral reasons or out of friendship) it is not reasonable to expect that of a public company.

Furthermore, there are different meanings of 'greed.' Obviously both Mr Brown and the company were motivated by profit, but that is not what I meant when I said that Mr Brown got greedy - I meant that he let his desire for money overrule his reason. He wasn't just asking for money in return for something he had agreed to hand over for free, he wanted an unrealistic amount of money.

It is actually in the company's interest to substantially reward innovative employees, despite an agreement saying that they are obliged to hand over the patent for free. Even taking this into account, the original offer from the employer was more than generous - I suggest you read the terms again. He gets paid and supported to develop his idea, takes no risk himself whatsoever, and still ends up with either 50% or 100% of all proceeds from selling it to other companies.

By refusing that offer, he made it quite clear that it was not in the employer's interest to reward him after all - either they would have to give him so much money and resources in return for so little that the project would become unfeasible, or he would be sulking that he hadn't got as much as he wanted. What else could they do but cut their losses and took (or tried to take) the patent that was their right?

If the company directors pay the employee a ridiculous amount when they could legally simply take the idea, or if they allowed him to retain all rights to a very valuable patent that legally belonged to the company, they would have been liable to the shareholders for the loss of income that represented.

[ Parent ]

Not the point. (none / 0) (#105)
by number33 on Wed Aug 21, 2002 at 06:27:05 AM EST

I meant that he let his desire for money overrule his reason. He wasn't just asking for money in return for something he had agreed to hand over for free, he wanted an unrealistic amount of money.

I know a thing or two about investing (not too much more, mind you), but I don't think it's been proven in any way that he wanted an unrealistic amount of money, at least, not if we believe that he retains the rights to his idea, that the Company cannot forcibly demand he reveal it.

That's the importance of the issue, here. If we side with Brown (assuming his claims are valid), then theoretically DSC should be willing to pay him every cent of internal savings and external profits over the probable savings and profits from the next best investment. If we side with DSC, Brown gets squat, besides any pay/benefits increase that would come from his position on the project.

You're going to have to show us numbers proving that the deal Brown wanted would have made the project unfeasible. Frankly, I think Brown's offer was fairly generous.

There is not much significance in trying to label Brown as a greedy man. He was acting in his self interest, as pretty much all of us do, and if not for that, there would be no economy, no corporations to try and force thoughts out of the minds of their employees.

I am not blindly siding with Brown on his particular case (we simply aren't in a position to have an educated opinion on it, in my opinion), but I am very much leaning towards his side as far as the legal issues are concerned.

[ Parent ]
Net Present Value (none / 0) (#106)
by GavinWheeler on Wed Aug 21, 2002 at 08:52:41 AM EST

Are you familiar with the concept of NPV? Especially as it relates to new technological developments with a significant element of risk?

Basically, when deciding whether to invest in a project, one way of doing so is to look at how much it is worth to you now compared to the cost of the investment over time. The present value has to be factored to take into account many things, most of which I will ignore because I'm too ignorant of accounting and economics to do so without embarassing myself.

But the most relevant one here is risk: if an idea could ideally bring in $10 million over the course of the future, but there is only 1 chance in ten that it will technically work, 1 chance in ten that it will successfully compete against similar technologies (or a 100% chance that you will get 10% market penetration), and a risk factor of one in two that you will be able to get a patent and prevent others from stealing your idea, then the (simplistic) NPV would be (0.1)*(0.1)*(0.5)*($10 000 000), or $50k. And those are very optimistic figures for risks of a standard new idea. You must also include the other influences, such as the fact that the promise of $1 million in the future is not worth anything like as much as much now as $1 million cash-in-hand. There are rules of thumb for working this factor out, but you'll have to ask an accountant.

Basically, the current value of an idea with no support except on paper is a truly tiny fraction of the figure you expect it to bring in in the future if all goes well. This is a common mistake for inventors to make - they see that their idea could bring in a total of one gazillion squids over the course of a patent's validity if all goes perfectly to plan, so assume that a company should be eprfectly willing to give them one gazillion squids (less a tiny fraction to give them some profit) now, in cash, on the table.

Under Evan Brown's proposal, DSC would have agreed to pay all development and legal costs, including a $120k salary to Mr Brown and a $40k budget (per annum or total, it isn't clear), in return for the possibility to make a maximum of $10 million from third party sales. Internal savings from using the code would have to be factored in, but we have no real way of knowing how much that would be.

Now, I work for a small technology development company, and I do have to assess my own ideas on this sort of basis to see if I think they are worth developing, although our R&D director naturally has the final say. Even throwing in some standard figures as guesses at the technical risks of getting his idea to work, the market risks of making it into a product, and the total development costs given his demanded salary plus the resources he wanted, I can see no way to justify the kind of committment Brown was demanding in return for such a limited return. If this was my idea, and the most I could ever make from it would be $10 million, it would have to go straight in the bin.

Note that this argument is only to show that the project Brown proposed to DSC was not economically feasible. To point out that he was being unrealistic, just look at how much he is demanding in return for nothing but an idea - he was accepting no risk and demanding a guaranteed immediate payback in the form of a bonus, huge salary and generous budget in order to work fulltime on an idea that would ultimately pay all its profits to him alone, after DSC had received $10 million.

That is unreasonable, both on the grounds of comparing it to what other inventors get and on the grounds of common sense: you should divide the profits on the basis of how much you put in to the project. Heck, even an inventor who took all the risk himself and worked evenings to pay for his costs wouldn't get as sweet a deal as that! His demand was unrealistically greedy, even if it had not come from someone who had agreed to sign over all his ideas to his employer for free.

That is greed in the sense of unrealistic demands, far beyond just acting in one's own self-interest. I think the results demonstrate quite clearly why such ridiculous demands were not in his self-interest!

[ Parent ]

Wellll....All you need (none / 0) (#88)
by pyro9 on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 08:40:02 AM EST

Is a 5 ft. piece of string, a dixie cup, and a herd of albino jaguars...

In other words, since the idea exists in his head, how woul;d they EVER be sure he divulged it? All he need do is divulge something plausable and wrong. Let the &^%& chase that down for a while. It would hardly be the first time an inventor stumbled on (or over) a plausable sounding idea that never works out in practice. Then, patent his 'new' idea that he 'came up with after being fired'. Let them try to prove otherwise.

It seems to me that since an idea isn't at all tangible and that compliance isn't verifiable, it is beyond the court's ability to order it handed over. They might as well order Bill Gates to return the souls of those who work for him.


The future isn't what it used to be
Unionization : It's not just for lathe operators (4.00 / 1) (#89)
by Shren on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 09:08:46 AM EST

Now that the days of anyone who knew the word "computer" pulling down at least 50k regardless of location or skills are over, the companies are seeing tech people for what they are - unorganized, exploitable workers. The amusing thing is that, what with the philosophy of tech workers being what it is, they are often willing parties to thier own marginalization.

Medical doctors have surrounded themselves with legislation so much that a union is unnecessary - the same with lawyers. Teachers have unions. Teamsters have unions. Dock workers have unions. Government workers have unions. All of these people have effective ways to fight the kind of abuse that tech workers just grin and take - increasing work hours, decreasing pay, no overtime pay, outrageous contracts, and the rapid shuffling out (to be replaced by some young sucker) if you dare protest.

Capitalism does not change it's rules for the computer scientists, and the simple fact is, the company that gets the most out of it's workers for the least pay makes the most money. Without organization, the companies around you will race to the bottom regarding how much they can pay you and how they can treat you. As the companies are willing to demonstrate, alone you are replaceable and have no bargaining position. Expect the pay of a tech worker to drop in comparison to the rest of the population, and these kinds of contracts to be standard, until something changes.

Organization. (none / 0) (#97)
by gromm on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 02:23:24 AM EST

Without organization, the companies around you will race to the bottom regarding how much they can pay you and how they can treat you. As the companies are willing to demonstrate, alone you are replaceable and have no bargaining position.

Actually, it's much worse than that.

I worked for an ISP a little over a year ago, and after being screwed repeatedly and quite badly after a corporate buy-out, the tech support team decided it was time to unionize. Shortly after I learned about this, the company in question "decided" to move their recently-acquired downtown office (where I worked) to their "head office" about two hours out of town in the middle of nowhere - which by the way mostly constituted the boss' house. Anyone unwilling to commute that far was laid off. (this included most everyone who didn't live halfway there anyway)

And it gets better. I learned a couple months ago that some brown-nose snipe of a bitch broke the story to the boss, probably in exchange for some sort of favour or other. The moral of the story? When making political moves, it is absolutely imperative to keep it a surprise, like the three low level management guys in the department calling an all-hands meeting to announce your sudden unionization. Nothing less will do because there's always some idiot out there who would be delighted to sink you because he thinks it has the slightest chance of getting him promoted.
Deus ex frigerifero
[ Parent ]

interesting idea (none / 0) (#101)
by lonemarauder on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 03:31:08 PM EST

How do we act on it?

[ Parent ]
What? Unions? I SMELL COMMUNISM! (none / 0) (#103)
by PowerPimp on Wed Aug 21, 2002 at 02:09:54 AM EST

I always knew those hippie tech support guys were a bunch of pinkos!



You'd better take care of me God; otherwise, you'll have me on your hands...
[ Parent ]

Selling an idea ? JUST an IDEA ? (none / 0) (#90)
by Shubin on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 09:39:14 AM EST

OK, ok, let's see it : I have SEVERAL ideas, each one could bring a lot of money. For example : how about a great toy, could be compared with AIBO ? Really. No jokes. Who believed, please stand up. Who wants to give me two millions for just an idea, raise your hands. Nobody ? What a pity... I expected this. If you have an idea, you can not sell it unless you are working in the same field. Nobody will ever listen to you. And I know why. There is a lot of people who claims to have ideas that will change the world, but turning into nonsense with close examination. Well developed ideas are not just ideas, better call them inventions or concepts. Success consists of : an idea, development, contacts and marketing. All words have very broad context here, but all components needed. So, let's treat the case from this position. Again - nobody will ever offer 2*10^6 bucks for just an idea.

Not a flat payment (none / 0) (#91)
by GavinWheeler on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 10:02:04 AM EST

He wasn't being offered a lump sum of $2 million in return for his idea, he was being offered the chance to develop it further for four months (with company resources, including a salary) and if the company decided it liked the idea, they would then pay him 5% of the money it saved them internally up to a maximum of $2 million. And he would get 50% of any profit they made from licensing or selling the technology externally, apparently with no upper limit on that payment.

This is still an excellent deal, in my opinion, but isn't quite as lunatic as it initially sounded.

[ Parent ]

Why (most) people sign these contracts (4.00 / 1) (#92)
by Mr.Surly on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 12:47:14 PM EST

Most IT people aren't really qualified for the job, and consider themselves to be to lucky to have snagged a $50K / year job. Most of them know they will never have an original idea anyway.

Couple this with the fact that the people hiring them usually aren't qualified to determine whether the candidate is actually qualified. The guy's resume says he knows (for example) C++. There's really no way most CTO/HR people can verify this. Why? Because most CTOs and HR people are non-technical. Did the CTO part surprise you? It shouldn't. The smart interviewer brings one of his programmers or admins in to ask the person a few questions, and they don't let them (the candidate) off the hook.

Anyway, if you have a job offer, and you can afford not to take the job (living in a refrigerator box sucks), then cross out the offending parts of the contract / agreement, initial it, have the hiring authority initial it (or better yet, amend it), then sign it when it's to your liking. Sometimes, they ask you to sign it a couple of days after you're hired. Do what I did: turn it back in with your W2, insurance paperwork, etc, but don't sign it. Most of the time, HR won't notice or care.

Ideas are not patentable (none / 0) (#93)
by MountainLogic on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 03:03:52 PM EST

In the US ideas are not patentable. Only inventions are patentable. Inventions are ideas that are reduced to practice. I know it's a fine line, but this is how the law is written. Reducing to practice means describing in detail how to do something. Sure, anyone may have an idea that flying like a bird is cool, but reducing that to practice is a different matter. -s

What a bumbling greedy fool (2.50 / 2) (#100)
by jforan on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 11:04:10 AM EST

If you are offered 2 million for an idea - SELL!  Unless you have already been previously payed 2 million for an idea, and are now selling your second, and the first idea made somebody a lot of money;  in this case, perhaps you should get more than what your first idea made, as you now have a track record.

Had he sold, he would have been put in a position where he would have been at least directing the fruition of his idea.  Now, he is screwed.

Who needs more than 2 million bucks to live comfortably for the rest of their lives anyway?  At 5% interest and 3% inflation, this amount would provide 50K of non deflating value for more than 80 years!

What a nincompoop.  What a maroon.

Jeff

I hops to be barley workin'.

Confiscation of an Idea | 106 comments (94 topical, 12 editorial, 0 hidden)
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