Who owns Snapchat?

New York Magazine Article

This week there was an article in New York Magazine that tackled the issues of intellectual property and who owns what. The article points to the increasingly indistinct area that bridges the gap between coming up with a ‘million dollar idea’ and actually building a product based on that idea.

Many people have seen the movie, The Social Network, about Facebook where the Winklevoss twins were eventually paid off by Mark Zuckerberg for their role in the initial social network idea. Something similar happened to Reggie Brown while he was at Stanford. After having come up with the idea for Snapchat he enlisted the help of two of his fraternity brothers who were more technically minded (where Reggie was an English major or fuzzy in campus vernacular).

Through the process of developing the app Brown and his partners had a falling out because of his lack of technical expertise which diminished his role in developing their product (ostensibly the straw the broke the camel’s back was the order of their names on the patent applications). This situation ended with them booting him from the company. The story doesn’t tell us how this story was resolved as it’s still being played out in litigation.

The article ends with the lines “…May be a harsh lesson, when it comes. In the meantime, the fuzzies might be prudent to travel with attorneys.” which strikes me a pretty cynical. Will events like these affect the idealism of startup culture by making people cynical even before they have a product that ten years later might make money?

In an increasingly technically focused economy how do the liberal arts justify themselves and attract students (the US needs more engineers than it is on track to produce an has taken to importing them from places like China an India)? Does frequency of these high profile occurrences demonstrate that fuzzies are needed to help conceptualize ideas even if they can’t execute them? Is there still a case for a well rounded liberal arts education?

The article also brings up issues that reflect the growing worry of protecting intellectual property all over the world. How can we protect the people’s ideas at home (where we have some pretty stringent IP laws) and even more in a global economy?

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4 thoughts on “Who owns Snapchat?

  1. I believe the strength of liberal arts students lies in their ability to see the big picture. In the case of SnapChat, you see that it was the English Major who originated the idea but needed his logical engineer friends to sort out the details. Having worked with programmers in the past, I have seen how their aptitude for understanding minute details can stand in the way of the larger goal at hand.
    I think people have to become more stringent about protecting their own ideas. It is easy to fall into the trust blanket of friends but we have seen in business how quickly friendships can fade when money is involved. We need to be more cautious and follow the Godfather motto that “it’s not personal, it’s business”.

  2. In terms of intellectual property rights, I think adaptation is ultimately the key to protection. The Internet is impossible to govern and the Snapchat situation is not the first of its kind. Instead of looking at intellectual property rights through such a traditional lens, lawmakers need to understand the limitations of Internet regulation and come up with more feasible ways to protect rights holders. The Snapchat case clearly shows that intellectual property rights are not as secure in the age of the Internet. Everyone has access to everything (including your ideas).

  3. Although it does seem cynical to think about liberal arts degrees with “fuzzy” majors as overly idealistic, I think the author of the article is simply approaching this topic from the viewpoint of a start-up investor who possesses a practical understanding of the tech landscape.

    If you’re only skill is the ability to brainstorm new ideas, without an ability to execute or implement them, then I tend to agree with the author – You should travel with an attorney. Or if you prefer not to travel with an attorney, start training yourself in math, science, quantitative, and engineering skills. Find a way to build these ideas on your own. Without the ability to build or execute one’s thoughtful or nuanced ideas, it becomes increasingly difficult to earn a living.

  4. It may not be the way that everyone would want it to be, but I think that anyone who wants to create something needs to take protection of their ideas into account. With the way that investors are willing to throw money at ideas and concepts that they believe to be viable money-makers, the risk of someone trying to steal an idea increases.

    There is certainly still a role for a liberal arts education and I think that there are likely millions of ideas that could come from people with that sort of background. Ideas that could change the world if implemented correctly. But i certainly agree with parts of the article and what people have said here – you need to be careful in who you work with and how you share your ideas and work in order to be protected.

    Sure, the IP laws may not yet be optimized for the internet/app/social media age that we currently live in, but there many of the existing laws serve well to protect creators. There are enough laws that will work for most of the situations that currently arise. If someone is going to form a group to bring an idea to life, they should plan for success. Whether it’s in-fighting or another entity that wants to take over or buyout the initial company, those creators should have some sort of legal protection in place.

    While it might be nice to think that everyone else has our best interests at heart, once money is involved, the stakes change, and so do the behaviors. It only makes sense to protect yourself legally.

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