How do I tell my friend that I stole her idea?
July 2, 2012 2:21 PM   Subscribe

I stole my friend's idea.

I'm close to launching a new product that is based on my friend's idea. She decided to work on it originally, but has given up and stopped pursuing it. A few weeks ago, I decided to build it myself. Now I'm getting ready to launch and I'm worried about my friendship. I should tell her, but I'm not sure how to do it.

Should I wait until it sees some success or is it better to bring it up before launch?

I know ideas aren't worth anything on their own and it's all about execution, but it's still 99.9% her idea.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (51 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You should be bringing her in on it before launch. I mean, really?
posted by MangyCarface at 2:23 PM on July 2, 2012 [31 favorites]

Bring it up before launch. i think it's really strange you didn't say anything prior to your development of her idea.
posted by sweetkid at 2:24 PM on July 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

Ignoring any legal ramifications for what you did: that's a shitty thing to do, and you know it. You need to talk to your friend asap.
posted by Think_Long at 2:28 PM on July 2, 2012 [53 favorites]

Bring it up before launch, unless you want to be the subject of an ugly lawsuit. Think the Winklevoss twins. (I mean, that, plus it'd be highly, HIGHLY unethical to go forward with this. But it'd be unethical as well as really risky.)
posted by dekathelon at 2:28 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

You need to talk to a good lawyer as soon as possible.
posted by The World Famous at 2:29 PM on July 2, 2012 [7 favorites]

In addition to possibly losing a friend, you're setting yourself up to be sued. You need to re-examine what this project means to you and why you're willing to jeopardize not only a friendship but also your reputation as a creator just to make it happen. Absolutely bring it up to her before launch, as you'll need it in writing if she gives you the green light to move forward. Above all else, make sure you make it clear that you want her to be on board with the product and that you want to give her full credit for the idea. (You were going to give her credit at least, yeah?) I think that's fair, but I am not a lawyer, nor am I your friend, so you may want to seek legal counsel just in case.
posted by Hello Darling at 2:30 PM on July 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

Talk to a lawyer and definitely don't email her acknowledging that it was her idea until after you talk through the implications of that with your lawyer.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:30 PM on July 2, 2012 [16 favorites]

Ideas are, in fact, worth something. I wonder if you have any idea how much writing/storyboarding/development your friend did before you grabbed this concept and ran. If she had brought it along to a fairly complete level before telling you about it, she might have fantastic grounds to sue you. And in your friend's place, even if I had no intention to sue, it would certainly bother me greatly to see someone picking up an idea I shared with them and running with it. This is exactly why I am now afraid of talking about some of my projects - because people who are low on ethics might not show respect for the intellectual work already done and readily take credit for it.

Since you haven't done anything with it yet, and you seem like you want to, I recommend that you tell her you were intrigued with the idea and started mocking it up. If you want to make money on it, do talk to a lawyer so you can draw up an agreement that is fair to you both and protects you both.
posted by Miko at 2:32 PM on July 2, 2012 [6 favorites]

Talk to her now, promise her (in writing) a share of the profit if it works out. You may have done the work to get it launched, but you admit to stealing her idea so she still deserves credit and payment. If it fizzles, thats one thing... but if you get magically rich off of this stolen idea not only will you have been a shitty friend but she'll have every right to sue your pants off.

Don't be surprised if she's upset that you got this far without talking to her first, just hope that talking to her *before* the launch will mitigate some of the betrayal.
posted by myShanon at 2:34 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're worried about your friendship? I'd be worried about a lawsuit. You need to talk to your friend NOW. If you can't work something out between the two of you, you need to lawyer up.

Ideas ARE worth something. Holy shit, have you ever worked with a graphic artist, or a designer? Ideas are their livelihood. If they discussed the idea for a design with you, it is still their idea and if you use it without paying them (like, if you went ahead and made it on your own after discussing it with them), you would be in a shitload of trouble. There are a ton of professions out that are built on ownership of ideas.

It'll probably be hard to talk to her about it. But you've gotta do it. Adult time, now.
posted by Elly Vortex at 2:37 PM on July 2, 2012 [6 favorites]

ideas aren't worth anything on their own

Actually, nothing would happen if someone didn't think of it first. Ideas are valuable -- that's the whole reason there's intellectual property laws.

You need to talk to your friend, which I think you know. If you care about saving the friendship, I think you probably need to ask her permission to go forward with this and you need to detail to her the way in which she will be credited. For all you know, although she isn't working on it NOW, it's on the back burner of her mind and she plans to come back to it eventually. I have a ton of ideas I'm not currently doing anything with, but if a friend stole one and used it for something without telling me, I would be incensed. She may be the same way, and she may in fact tell you, "actually, I AM planning on doing something with that eventually, so I'd rather you didn't do this." And then you either go against her wishes and go forward with the launch, lose the friendship, and cross your fingers she doesn't sue you, or you have to abandon ship.

You should have spoken to her before doing all the work you've already done, but that ship has sailed. You MUST talk to her about it now. You might get lucky and she'll give you her blessing, you never know. But you should certainly apologize for not talking to her about it earlier. It's going to be difficult because what you've done is kind of underhanded (and I think you also know that). But all may yet be well; talk to her.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 2:41 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

The line between idea and execution is much more blurry than you think. Get a lawyer. Hammer out a deal with your friend.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:47 PM on July 2, 2012

Your plans for the future greatly influence the correct path here, but all of the correct paths involve a conversation with your friend.

If ideas had no value you would've executed a different idea, one without so much social downside. They have value, as does execution.

You haven't done much yet. A few weeks of coding is essentially nothing compared to many years of developing a business. If you can't find a way for everyone to stay happy, do something else.
posted by grudgebgon at 2:50 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

(You're getting a lot of advice here that you should completely ignore, regardless of whether it turns out to be good advice or not. Get a good lawyer who can give you real legal advice.)
posted by The World Famous at 2:54 PM on July 2, 2012 [20 favorites]

Generally the consensus on previous AskMe's (where the announcer asks "I have a great idea for a product/service/whatever! What now?") seems to have been that ideas, on their own, are fairly worthless. What makes them worthwhile is the execution of said idea (hence the reason Facebook is worth so much while MySpace is used only by gangs and artists). So ethically I think you're on solid ground, assuming that your friend gave up on her idea.

Legally, on the other hand, you could be in trouble. And while I don't think you're obligated to "cut your friend in" on an idea she couldn't make tangible, I think that for the sake of the friendship it's important to get her blessing first.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:56 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

A lot depends on what you mean by idea, and whether your goal is to keep your friend, or protect your business, or what. Talk to your attorney about protecting your business; we don't have enough information to provide any other useful advice, especially since we don't know what your goals are.

On preview, I second The World Famous. Talk to an attorney.
posted by Kwine at 2:58 PM on July 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

I know ideas aren't worth anything on their own and it's all about execution, but it's still 99.9% her idea.

If all your friend did was dream up the product and talk about it, there is no legal worry. But your concern is real, in that you have an ethical dilemma.. Best to discuss it with your friend, or expect to lose him or her. Not to mention all the backlash that will have to deal with among mutual friends, and others who know about how you came to build the product.
posted by snaparapans at 2:58 PM on July 2, 2012

The World Famous has it. If you have made a product based upon another's idea, you should #1 talk to a lawyer.

do not delete this question, as it may be evidence.

Do not listen to anybody's opinion of whether its legal or not. Listen to the opinion of a lawyer who is being paid to help you.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:59 PM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

Not to mention that even though you may be on firm legal ground, your friend can sue you and even though you are likely to win, you lose just for the fact of a lawsuit.
posted by snaparapans at 3:01 PM on July 2, 2012

Legal advice can't hurt but what seems obvious is that you either should convince your friend to join so you can launch the thing together, or [you] [should] quit, and pursue other stuff.
posted by Namlit at 3:03 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, what Namlit said, get your friend on board, or give up the 3 weeks you've invested in it. Because without your friend, this is heartache and misery all rolled into one.
posted by ambrosen at 3:07 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, of course you should talk about it before you launch, but after you have talked to a lawyer. The lawyer can tell you what potential liabilities you might face for going forward with someone else's idea. The lawyer can also give you ideas as to help reduce liability if it indeed exists. For example you might try to purchase the rights she has in this idea from her outright in the form of cash. Or you might cut her in to a share of the business.

I am going to add the following only because your initial post seems incredibly naive to the possibility of legal ramifications here. Do not skimp on getting a lawyer because they are expensive. If your business does not have a line item in the budget for legal services (to set up a business properly or draft good contracts or just to give you legal counsel when an issue like this one arises), you might skate by for awhile just fine.

But I have made a living off of people who are penny wise, pound foolish--i.e. people who do not want me to set up an LLC between multiple parties, but years down the road have to pay me significantly more to get them out of the mess they are in with their business partners because they thought they could do it themselves. Or those people who drafted their own crappy contracts (or didn't have one in writing at all) and have to pay me vastly more money to try to get out of their predicament that could have been avoided altogether by paying me a few hundred bucks.

I know paying lawyers sucks, but this situation seems like one that the phrase "penny wise, pound foolish" was meant to describe. Get a lawyer.
posted by murrey at 3:08 PM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

Generally the consensus on previous AskMe's (where the announcer asks "I have a great idea for a product/service/whatever! What now?") seems to have been that ideas, on their own, are fairly worthless. What makes them worthwhile is the execution of said idea (hence the reason Facebook is worth so much while MySpace is used only by gangs and artists). So ethically I think you're on solid ground, assuming that your friend gave up on her idea.

Facebook is a funny example, because Mark Zuckerberg had to pay tens of millions of dollars to settle with people who "only" had an idea.

Do not listen to anyone giving you legal advice who is not your lawyer.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:08 PM on July 2, 2012 [8 favorites]

Legal advice can't hurt but what seems obvious . . .

If commercial litigators had a few hundred dollars an hour for every time a business made far-reaching life-of-the-company decisions starting with that phrase, the legal industry would look exactly like it does right now.

Come on. Get a lawyer and don't make decisions based on advice you get here - particularly from people who tell you that something is "obvious."
posted by The World Famous at 3:09 PM on July 2, 2012 [9 favorites]

Generally the consensus on previous AskMe's seems to have been that ideas, on their own, are fairly worthless. What makes them worthwhile is the execution of said idea (hence the reason Facebook is worth so much while MySpace is used only by gangs and artists). So ethically I think you're on solid ground, assuming that your friend gave up on her idea.

The context is different. Your own idea is not going to produce income or contribution unless you execute it; that's what "worthless" means in the context of your own idea. And it's true that you can't copyright an idea, and if someone else independently comes up with the same idea, you're SOL if you hadn't started executing it.

But those situations aren't what this question is about; this is about someone who had no idea of his/her own until s/he heard someone else's idea and decided to take the execution on her/himself without telling the person whose original idea it was. That is not ethically all right. And if the person had done significant work to take it out of idea realm and toward reality realm, there may be a legal breach too.
posted by Miko at 3:10 PM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm sorry, but I really would be beyond furious if I was your friend. If you've managed to go from deciding to build it to being in a position to launch "in a few weeks", I don't see how you can claim any great credit for the execution.

I think you should tell her you were thinking about her project and had some good ideas for it, and ask if the two of you can get together as a team to get the whole thing off the ground.
posted by Fairisle at 3:11 PM on July 2, 2012

I've no idea where you are legally, but morally you are clearly in the wrong, and I think you know it. It would never occur to me that a friend of mine would take an idea of mine and try and commercialise secretly. If friendship means anything it means I can tell by friends ideas without their trying to take advantage. From your title I think you know this, so talk to them. Confess and cut them into the deal.
posted by Touchstone at 3:13 PM on July 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

"decided to work on it" sounds like she might have put more work into it than simply voicing an idea.

lawyering up is great advice if you're determined to move forward no matter what. but you need to figure out which is more important: the friendship, or the product?
posted by changeling at 3:15 PM on July 2, 2012

A few weeks ago, I decided to build it myself

You've only been working on this a few weeks? Perfect. Invite your friend to lunch, tell her you just can't stop thinking about her excellent idea after she decided to stop working on it, and you've been knocking around a few ideas/put together a mock-up for fun. Ask her if she is still interested in the project?

If she says yes and expresses interest in what you've been working on, bring her in as a co-creator and (at the very least) give her credit for her idea. You're not clear whether the idea is for a tangible or intangible product - I'm guessing it is an app, but have no reason to guess it - so you'd have to either tell us what the type of product is or decide for yourself what the most equitable way is to include her.

If she says no or expresses disinterest, credit her on the eventual product and keep her in the loop about the idea.

Problem solved. You're not stealing the idea unless you, you know, steal it. You've only been working on this for a few weeks, to me what matters is what you do next.
posted by arnicae at 3:31 PM on July 2, 2012 [24 favorites]

Re "ideas are worth nothing on their own". This really depends exactly what we're talking about and how far along in the development process she was.

If you guys were shooting the shit over beers and she said, "I want to write a movie about space pirates!" and then months went by, she never mentioned it again, and very obviously never started writing the space pirate movie, it's perfectly ethical to write your own movie about space pirates.

If you guys were shooting the shit over beers and she showed you her extensive outline for a movie about a teenage stowaway aboard a space pirate ship who commandeers the ship after a mutiny in order to rescue a planet of adorable talking mice, and then you "suddenly" were "inspired" to "write" a movie about space pirates? In that case, it is not ethical to write your own movie about space pirates.

And this, of course, in a field where the axiom "ideas are worth nothing on their own" is actually true, because an idea is not a movie. If you're talking about an idea that is a lot closer to a finished product, or an industry where ideas are commonly assumed to have monetary value, this could all be totally different.
posted by Sara C. at 3:39 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

"An apology."


"Talking your way into making your friend the prevailing party on a motion for summary judgment that results in the award to your friend of some or all of the value of your project and other penalties as appropriate."

are two different things. Conduct yourself accordingly.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 3:48 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

You have an legal and ethical problem here. I suggest you consult a lawyer before you do anything, even though I think stealing someone's idea is a shitty ass thing to do.

OP, you aren't even asking how to fix this, which, if I were your friend I'd find deeply problematic. You're asking how to tell her. Telling your friend is not the whole solution, although it should be part of one, no matter when you tell her. And since your post makes no mention of any intention to bring her on board, I'm guessing that you hope that you tell her and she's just so thrilled that you did it/it was successful that she'll either forgive you or at least be somewhat less mad at you. I can almost guarantee that neither of those will happen.

I think you should be prepared for some ugliness. "Close to launch" is too late for an apology that saves the friendship.
posted by sm1tten at 3:52 PM on July 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Since I am not much of a legal or business person I'm just going to stick with the friend aspect of this in my advice.

I'm not sure what your intention was with this project, or if you were planning on running with it on your own since you started working on it, or sharing the credit with your friend from the beginning. So I don't know if saying what I would say would be a lie or not. But I would probably tell you friend something like "So, I know you were working on this project, and when you gave up, I was doing some thinking and thought I may be able to make it work, so I've been working on it since, and I think I may have a product that could launch soon. I'd like for you to be on board and share the credit since it was your idea."

To be perfectly honest if you aren't willing to share the credit and spotlight with your friend than I would not want to continue to be your friend either. Clearly you were not intending on bringing her in necessarily from the get go, but if you want to salvage your friendship at all, you need to. And of course, not to mention the potential lawsuits. I just think that if you took a step back you would see that the ethical thing (business and personal) would be to bring your friend in on it as soon as possible, if she is even willing to continue working with you, and doesn't feel completely betrayed already. You have to think about how you would feel if someone did this to you.
posted by Quincy at 4:02 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

She ... has given up and stopped pursuing it

According to you. Would she say that, though?
posted by carter at 4:06 PM on July 2, 2012

Okay, so the bad news is that it isn't clear why you didn't just ask your friend weeks ago that you wanted to move forward with her idea.

The good news is that you want to preserve the friendship.

Which pretty much means - lawyer to find out the legal ramifications (consider it part of the price of preserving the friendship), and then, based on what they say, approach your friend in the most respectful, legally intelligent way possible, and come to some sort of agreement.

And be okay with the fact that your friend may not want to be your friend anymore.
posted by anitanita at 4:19 PM on July 2, 2012

It costs time and money to sue someone, those are resources your friend might not have. This might be a risk you are willing to take, but I wouldn't recommend it. They might win, they might lose. They might ruin themselves trying. This part is uncertain.

It costs nothing to be your sworn enemy until your former friend pisses on your gravestone except transportation to your cemetery. This is a certain result if you don't give your friend a nice settlement.

Frankly, if you did this to me, I would consider it an eternal affront. Life is too short to be nice to traitors and thieves. However, forgiveness can be bought even if memory can't. Sign them on, you owe it to them if you care at all.

Then again, if the idea is really that good...Facebook is likely worth far more to Mark Zuckerberg than the Winklevoss twins ever would have been. It's your choice.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 4:21 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

You stole something from your friend. Fuck legality, as a human being who wants to do the moral and ethical thing, you talk to her immediately and tell her what you did. In the meantime, you abandon your plans to launch this product. There is no going back once it's launched.

Do not launch this product without an agreement from her. Otherwise you will continue to be a thief and risk legal action in addition to permanently losing your friend.

What you tell her is simple:

a) I stole your idea.
b) I was going to launch it without you.
c) I'm not going to launch it now without a partnership with you.
d) I'm really very sorry. That's why I'm coming to you now.
posted by inturnaround at 4:21 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Assuming that you've just come back to this thread after your lawyer was like, "Yeah, you're good. Don't worry," I think that arnicae really hit it on the head. Invite her back in, get her blessing, and make the whole thing flattering.

I don't know if this is because I run with a creative crowd, and routinely have more ideas than ability to implement, but stuff like this happens pretty regularly with us. Sometimes it gets awkward if you're writing something off of someone else's nut and they want to go a different direction than you do, but even then you can usually talk to them and end up with two ideas instead of one. Just be cool and think about how you'd want to be treated if she's been secretly cobbling your idea for the past couple weeks.
posted by klangklangston at 4:30 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

40 answers, and almost all of them suggest that you've already done something wrong. You haven't.

You said it when you said you have two problems: a legal worry that she will come after you after launch, and a personal worry that you're going to upset her.

If you tell her that you've already done all this work behind her back, she's going to be upset with your poor communication, and her incentive is to ask for the maximum possible cut since you've already done the work.

Instead, why don't you tell her that
1. you have some time to work on something, and one of your ideas is to continue work on the project that you both had already started
2. you think it was a really good idea, even though it's a lot of work, and
3. you were wondering what kind of compensation she thinks is fair.

Now, her incentive is to ask for a lot less since she only gets paid if you work on her idea. Stressing that it's a lot work justifies her having quit the project, and might also convince her that she doesn't deserve too much compensation. You should avoid stating that it's (entirely) her idea because it only encourages her to ask for more, and might cause you problems.

From a human standpoint, she feels consulted, and after she answers, wait a couple weeks, and launch. If the product does really well, and her compensation seems small by comparison, buy her a nice gift like a nice bottle of wine or take her out for dinner to celebrate.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 5:02 PM on July 2, 2012 [7 favorites]

I think you should talk to her, but no because of some threat of a lawsuit. Big deal about the suit. That is just a negotiating tactic on her point. I think you should talk to her because it is the right thing to do. I would tell her you want to run with the idea and see what she thinks. If she is upset with that, you can always drop it and call the three weeks of coding a lesson. If she thinks it is a good idea, then you can discuss terms.

Most are concerned about her being your friend and you are screwing her over somehow and this will ruin your relationship. I got news for you. Your relationship is already shaky if one, you were willing to consider this on your own and two, doing business with friends will change your relationship regardless unless you are Ben & Jerry.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:09 PM on July 2, 2012

I don't know if this is because I run with a creative crowd, and routinely have more ideas than ability to implement, but stuff like this happens pretty regularly with us. Sometimes it gets awkward if you're writing something off of someone else's nut and they want to go a different direction than you do, but even then you can usually talk to them and end up with two ideas instead of one.

This is entirely where I'm coming from, klangklangston. Obviously the details of this matter a great deal - but working with the information we've been furnished, I had the same reaction. Mr. Arnicae is a musician (and a prolific and creative one), and he would be the first to say that his work owes a great deal to musicians he has listened to as well as musicians that he jams or gigs with. He gets a riff from this guy, a new approach to writing from that guy - and lifts ideas wholesale (as do his buddies).

As an example, two years ago he came up with a great (and novel) idea involving a touring group. He didn't have any interest in implementing it because he hates touring, but he mentioned it to his buddies and people he gigged with - and what do you know, 3 months later that touring group was born! He didn't ask for (or expect) any credit for the idea, but the group credits him on every album liner and always offers him tickets to shows when they are local.

For him, generating, honing, and sharing ideas is part of his creative process (just as are long showers and water-proof writing slates) and he couldn't imagine it any other way.

Of course, all of this comes down to the details, all of which we're speculating at.
posted by arnicae at 5:27 PM on July 2, 2012

I definitely believe that inspiration (ideas) is only 1%. Perspiration (making it happen) is 99%.
That said, the law treats that 1% with a lot of deference. You should consider talking to a lawyer.
posted by Flood at 5:42 PM on July 2, 2012

You're being very unclear about "idea". There are a bunch of quite real laws covering ownership of intellectual-y things: copyright, trademark, patent laws, to name three. There are also plenty of business-relation torts that play off stated or implied intentions. You should have a talk with a lawyer where you can be more precise about what form your friend's "idea" was expressed in, what bearing your work has on it, and what obligations that may imply for you.

And also, in the future, learn to have these conversations before doing what you've done here.
posted by ead at 6:00 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm in the camp that if you make good now, before you launch, no problem. And if she really tried and gave up on the idea, it shouldn't take much to make her satisfied.

Depending on how close a friend this is, I might go with Espirit's approach of feigning that I haven't put as much time into it as I really have and then spending a couple weeks pretending to work vefore launch.
posted by RobotHero at 6:38 PM on July 2, 2012

Agreed with others that you're not giving us enough detail to go on here.

However, if this is something you took from an idea to "ready to launch" in a few weeks, I suspect the stakes are somewhat lower than many seem to assume.

Depending on the nature of the idea and the area of endeavor--I also think it's likely that the sanest reaction on her part will be "oh, great, I'm glad to hear that idea didn't get lost". Most of us have more ideas than time to follow up on them.

That said, agreed with others that keeping her updated as you go sounds most likely to keep her on your side. Is there some reason you don't want to? Are you afraid she'd be a bad collaborator, or do you want to work alone on this for some other reason?

Other things being equal, there's usually little to lose by sharing credit for an idea--it can make somebody else feel good without costing you anything.

On the other hand, if this is really the next facebook--OK, I don't know, the question's out of my league. Honestly if it turns out there's millions to fight over, that sounds like a high-class problem.
posted by bfields at 6:51 PM on July 2, 2012

Yes, you need to talk to her, possibly in concert with a lawyer. But the way I'd talk to her is this. "Hey, you know that idea you had and worked on for a bit. I had a bit of an itch to scratch, and I built this. I think this could be something."

If she doesn't care, explain that you do, and you'd like to make a deal on her idea. If she does care, decide between you -- do you want to buy the rights off of her and go it alone, form a partnership, what?

Once you've decided that, then you'll know a better course, but legally and morally, you owe her a slice of this. You never would have built it without her giving you the idea to do so.
posted by eriko at 6:53 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

you can hire a lawyer, or you can roll the dice. i'd hire a lawyer.
posted by facetious at 8:55 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Lawyer up. We can't give you legal advice on this.

We can try to appeal to your better nature (and you are obviously feeling conflicted or you wouldn't have posted this question). My vote would be to discuss this with her and iron out the details with a lawyer prior to launch.

If it is the next Facebook? You are protected legally and financially.

If it is just a throwaway little idea that doesn't do much? Your friendship and reputation are both protected. The reputation piece is not a small thing. Zuckerberg can afford to not care about the W-Twins, because he now has a lot of money and power. But if Facebook had been small potatoes and hadn't done much, chances are good that Zuckerberg would have been cut out of some circles by his "take someone else's idea and run with it" reputation. If you are in a career that depends on reciprocity or collaboration or recommendations? That is worth a great deal, potentially.

I don't think you can hide the fact that you took the idea from her or yourself. Especially if she has any documentation of having spoken to you about this idea (or to others about this idea before you started working on it). Which means that you could be setting yourself up for some big personal and possibly professional regret later.
posted by jeanmari at 9:15 PM on July 2, 2012

Honestly, I don't know that you need to get a lawyer involved yet if you haven't actually launched it or done anything with it. You shouldn't actually launch it or do anything with it, though, until things are resolved.

Assuming all you have is some code or whatnot on your computer, and nothing else, invite your friend to lunch, and start off by asking her about her plans. Tell her you were excited about the idea, and have been working on some things in your spare time. Let her know that you would like to continue with it, but since it's her idea, it needs to be on her terms. See what she has to say.

If she says stop, than you stop. You've only put a few weeks into it. If she says just go ahead with it, than you go ahead with it. If she says she wants to be involved, you get her involved.

Since (I'm assuming) you haven't actually released anything yet, you are still at a point where you can pretend it never happened. The important thing is that you don't actually do anything until you get it worked out IN WRITING. This is important, because friendships will be destroyed when money is involved, and this way you are keeping this business decision on a business level.

If you do decide to do anything with this idea without consulting her about it, than you are opening yourself up to being royally screwed when you are sued.
posted by markblasco at 10:34 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

ideas aren't worth anything on their own

If you actually believed this, there is no way you would call what you did "stealing". But you did, so you know that the idea was worth something. In addition, if ideas weren't worth anything on their own, you would have just moved on to the next moneymaking idea instead of stealing a friend's intellectual work.

Don't be that guy. Do the right thing.
posted by palomar at 10:48 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm not going to hammer on the moral aspect because you're clearly concerned about that and you've seen near-universal agreement here that it's not good. I'm not going to get into the legal side because that is something better left for a lawyer. My main point is a practical one:

• You are eating the seed corn. She is an idea person who apparently has ideas that are new enough that they are worth executing and elegant enough that they can be executed in weeks. You can apparently execute. Why would you ever want to make an enemy of her? What will you do for 2.0? What will you do for your follow-up? When you find someone you can make idea babies with, KEEP THEM. People spend decades trudging through the desolate wastes looking for their creative partners in art and business. You have chemistry right now or there wouldn't be a product. For the love of god, treat it like the budding potential it is and CULTIVATE.

• If you're a guy, please be aware that the idea/credit theft combined with the rationalizing is a horrible old societal pattern and a really dark thing that you should avoid contributing to just on the basis of improving your world. So, if you're a guy that would be another reason to feel good about changing your plan -- you'd also be changing a bad pattern that you probably don't want to be a part of.

• How to do it. "Hi friend, look I wanted to talk to you about something. After we talked about idea and we worked on it a bit, I kept finding myself coming back to it and hacking on it in my spare time. Before I knew it I had a fully working prototype that could even be launched. I'd like to launch it! But even though I did the development, the idea is yours. Can I bring you back in on this? What would be a fair percentage?" There's a danger that she says something high, but we're talking about 3 weeks of work here so who cares. She might have actually spent more time than that refining the idea.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 2:21 AM on July 3, 2012 [13 favorites]

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