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I dunno, it depends on the circumstances I suppose. If you accept a hired job from someone and then take the idea private instead of doing it for the person who hired you, that seems like it legitimately should be illegal. Like if an Intel manager comes up with an idea and asks an engineer to work up a prototype, surely it'd be illegal for the engineer to quit and work up that same prototype for a new chip-design startup instead?



You're talking about apples and oranges. Hardware and web apps are very different. Hardware still has lots of genuine inventions. Web apps--especially in the social space--all have the same kinda features at the end of the day.

So if you are a client and you come to me with an idea about a social network for plumbers that has an inbox feature, the max I might agree to is that I won't launch a similar product for his market...but I would be hesitant to even make that promise. I would never give away my right to have an inbox feature on a future venture, lol. Of course, you can totally make me agree that I will not reuse any code or specific modules I program for you will be yours.

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> Like if an Intel manager comes up with an idea and asks an engineer to work up a prototype, surely it'd be illegal for the engineer to quit and work up that same prototype for a new chip-design startup instead?

Yet this is how many Silicon Valley (back when the valley was actually about Silicon) start-ups began. Generally, however, the pattern was engineer and manager would identify a business need that real customers have. They would attempt to build it as a "pet project", be stiffed by conservative and hunch-driven product organization and would then both quit and take a large chunk of the engineers along with them.

The reason this succeeded is that NDAs and non-competes are unenforceable in California. Law suits would still come (due to alleged theft of IP, which generally never happened) and be settled out of court for only a small proportion of the the equity the "idea" produced.

Personally, I will stand by my words. If you can't build your idea it's worthless (you can't estimate whether others can either). If everyone else can (welcome to web 2.0), it's worthless as well. Sure you may be able to sue somebody over your idea (but you generally have to have something more, like a claim of IP theft), but your lawsuit proceeds will be a fraction of what the person who "stole" your idea has made out of it. That $65mm doesn't change Zuckerberg's life _a single bit_ (not having another $65mm might only make life easier for him, as that's one less bodyguard to hire to protect it).

On the other hand, if you have a genuinely new idea i.e., you have a new CPU architecture you invented but don't have the ability to build the prototype chip _all by yourself_ then one engineer quitting and competing with you won't succeed unless he _actually_ steals your design (this is real IP theft) and even then you'll likely outdo him (as he'll have a bug for bug copy of your design, whereas you actually understand the design choices).

If management wants to be rich, they have to treat engineers with utmost respect. There's difference between engineers mere _coders_ who turn business requirements into code (usually by gluing software others have written together) and engineers. Spot the engineers early on, challenge them, give them autonomy and responsibility. Let them work on pet projects (Google calls it "20% time", but it's merely a codification of something successful companies had been doing before), tune your product vision with their data.

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> The reason this succeeded is that NDAs and non-competes are unenforceable in California.

True for employee noncompetes with no other relevant factors; not true for NDAs.

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Thanks for correction. I treat NDAs as enforceable, I stick by my word. Just to be clear: I am entirely against IP theft (taking actual source code from a company).

Nonetheless the idea of "social network for X" is not unique and deserves no protection similar to what a chip architecture or a machine learning algorithm may receive. Not that there aren't ambiguous examples e.g., using SVMs to categorize users of a social network or using an emulated RISC architecture to profile the GUI front-end of a web application (such as a social network) but in the cases the idea is not very useful without the engineering chops to put it into use.

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Something tells me that microprocessor specifications (at the level that an Intel engineer would be dealing with) are actually valuable intellectual property, not just some sort of vague idea about a unified online Harvard facebook that Zuckerberg changed several times as Facebook developed.

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Yeah, it was probably a bad example. But my impression is that you'd be hammered for even taking something vague out of a place like Intel or Apple. If Jobs gives you a high-level idea about the next Apple product, and you quit and do something vaguely like it on your own, even if you change it a bunch, you'll definitely be in court if your idea is even remotely like the one you got paid to work on.

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Jon Rubenstein was an Apple VP and the head of iPod until 2006. In 2007 he went to Palm and spearheaded their smartphone development. You don't think he had a "high-level idea" about the iPhone before he left? I don't see him in court, and given Apple's (and Jobs') penchant for intellectual property litigation that says a lot.

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Given Palm being another company with deep pockets, it may not say all that much. Elite companies don't like having legal battles because most of them are Pyrrhic victories and should only be fought over major matters.

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What, like HTC or Microsoft?

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True, but Palm would have been more difficult. You cannot get a patent for "build a better phone" or "interface that doesn't suck" which is what they likely would have gone after Palm for. Also, there isn't a prejudice against Palm, but plenty of people view MSFT with disdain and MSFT has in some ways been victims of their own success making them an easier target.

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I don't know a single recent Apple product that's truly innovative, including NeXT. Please fill me on this:

* Apple II had tons of competitors on the market

* Lisa/Macintosh? Xerox PARC roots

* iPod? Tons of poorly constructed devices before it

* NeXT and OS X? Obj C is not the first "C with objects" language, Mach kernel is from CMU

* iPad/Newton? Tons of prior art (the idea itself belongs to Alan Kay)

I have major problems with Apple (they aren't friendly to hackers who don't work at Apple), but the fact that people forgot the predecessors of Apple's devices is only an example of importance of execution.

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I'm not an Apple fan, I run Ubuntu on my macbook pro but as far as smartphones go the iPhone was truly innovative. Its closed nature is hurting it now, but it was innovative.

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It's surely innovative and a great product, but there's very little on the iPhone that hasn't been done elsewhere before. Apple merely had the design and engineering talent to put together a coherent product based on those ideas.

If these engineers left with only vague product design ideas in their heads (e.g., use triangulation for location awareness, use an accelerometer for rotating the screen) and built their own iPhone work-alike (which is difficult work), I'd side with them as well.

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The thing is very little is truly completely new and if it is it is usually isolated research on an idea which is later use in a product which gets the tag of getting the idea's elsewhere. Incremental improvement of a basic concept is how us humans work best, most concepts stretched back far enough can be said to be based on some previous work, excluding a few true outliers that have advanced us.

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Look up the meaning of "innovation." It's not the same as "invention." Innovation is when you take an invention and make it practical. That is, bring it to market in a product that has a significant impact. Apple has surely done this many times.

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Great correction. I guess I should say it should be entirely possible to be innovative without being inventive or having a unique idea.

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