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?