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Are My Ideas Being Stolen? If So, What Then?

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the patent-your-own-idea-stealer dept.

Education 508

BinaryGrind writes "I just got started taking Computer Science classes at my local university and after reading Universities Patenting More Student Ideas I felt I needed to ask: How do I tell if any of my projects while attending classes will be co-opted by my professors or the university itself and taken away from me? Is there anything I can do to prevent it from happening? What do I need to do to protect myself? Are there schools out there that won't take my work away from me if I discover TheNextBigThing(TM)? If it does happen is there anything I can do to fight back? The school I'm attending is Southern Utah University. Since it's not a big university, I don't believe it has a big research and development department or anything of that ilk. I'm mostly wanting to cover my bases and not have my work stolen from me."

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Only the paranoid survive (not) (5, Insightful)

alain94040 (785132) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344633)

I used to think like you. Very paranoid about whatever I thought were great ideas. Don't tell anyone. Ask for a non-disclosure (NDA). I was so convinced that if I even hinted at some of my ideas, everyone would try to steal them from me.

Guess what: everyone but you thinks your idea is stupid. Really. No one wants to steal it from you.

It took me maybe 10 years to figure that out. I have a few patents, got sued too. The value of a great idea is in its execution.

Take the idea and run with it. Make it happen. Code, develop, market, etc. Just like military planning, great ideas don't survive their first implementation, but they have the potential to evolve in something great.

I have good news for you though: your question is typical of budding entrepreneurs. The simple fact that you even ask is a sign that you'll do great in the future. Just add some experience (~5 years) and you'll have the perfect mix.

Don't believe everything your read. The example in the article is the one in a million occurrence. That's not the kind of odds you want to shoot for.

--
http://fairsoftware.net/ [fairsoftware.net] -- where software developers and citizen journalists create fair businesses

Re:Only the paranoid survive (not) (5, Funny)

dday376 (1035900) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344715)

Hey, I was gonna say that! That was totally my idea...

Re:Only the paranoid survive (not) (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26344863)

INFOMATION WANTS TO BE FREEEEEEEEEEE

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Filter error: Don't use so many caps. It's like whispering
Filter error: Don't use so many caps. It's like whispering
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Filter error: Don't use so many caps. It's like whispering

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Re:Only the paranoid survive (not) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26345075)

I lol'd

Re:Only the paranoid survive (not) (5, Funny)

Nerdfest (867930) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344987)

This idea was invented by Shampoo.

Re:Only the paranoid survive (not) (5, Insightful)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345331)

It's worth adding that in the real world you don't keep your ideas. When you accept a job you are required to sign a piece of paper that assigns ALL your rights to your employer. The corporation automatically gets your ideas and you keep nothing.

About the only way you can "escape" that obligation is to develop your ideas in your basement on your own time, but even then the corporation will claim the idea came during workhours and sue your to acquire the patent rights. It's fun living in corporate tyranny. ;-)

Re:Only the paranoid survive (not) (4, Insightful)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344877)

Guess what: everyone but you thinks your idea is stupid. Really. No one wants to steal it from you.

Either that or else it's obvious and everyone's going to do it. I had an idea for an MMO strikingly similar to Eve Online, but I'm absolutely certain they didn't steal the idea from me.

The value of a great idea is in its execution.

And that encapsulates the entire conversation. It's rare for the first software product to market to dominate for a long time. Windows wasn't the first OS or even graphical OS to market. WoW wasn't the first MMO, and it wasn't even the first that incorporated all of its ideas. Doing it right is more important than doing it first.

Re:Only the paranoid survive (not) (5, Interesting)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344997)

Guess what: everyone but you thinks your idea is stupid. Really. No one wants to steal it from you.

^This. In addition, I'd like to preemptively warn you away from worrying about "Java can be decompiled" or "Javascript shows the source code!" The bits and pieces of your code simply aren't that valuable. Either someone is going to steal it outright (in which case you've got them on Copyright Infringement) or they're already experienced enough to re-implement what you've done. And in the time it would take to pull your code out of context, modify it to work in a new environment, then attempt to disguise its origins, it would have been faster to re-implement the concept from scratch!

So in short, don't worry about the technology. Obtain your Copyrights, Trademarks, and Patents as necessary. Those are your real protection.

Re:Only the paranoid survive (not) (4, Insightful)

Irish_Samurai (224931) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345065)

After I do a consult with prospective clients, someone always asks me "Why should we pay you since you just told us what we needed to do? We can just go do it ourselves." This is pretty close to the sentiment of the article.

I always say the same thing: "What to do is free, how to do it costs money, asking me how to do it after you try to do it yourself will cost you double and I won't even have to raise my price."

Knowing how to execute a particular idea is always better than the original idea, because you have the hands on knowledge to improve it and improvise with it.

I would add (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26345067)

Most of the stuff you do for school projects isn't marketable anyway. If you are given a set of requirements, then you aren't coding your idea, you are coding theirs, and their idea probably isn't marketable.

If you have an open-ended assignment that specifically requires you to come up with a new idea, just come up with something stupid that barely meets the requirements. Keep your *real* ideas to yourself, and you won't have anything to worry about.

Re:Only the paranoid survive (not) (2, Informative)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345117)

How was it that Ghandi put it? First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win? I don't think it's any different in business. No matter how good your idea, they'll ignore it or tell you it's shit so you give up, leaving them wide open to come in and take it. No, sorry -- but as an artist I know exactly how jealously one should guard their work. You have to be a puffer-fish, as my teacher once said. Or put another way --

"Many giant corporations have no need of a patent system. They may obtain patents, but only as a defense against some little machine shop operator who might otherwise invent and patent something the public would demand and the big corporation would have to negotiate for, instead of just adding the item to its product line. Many large corporations would be glad to compete on size, nationwide service, high volume, strong finance, and prompt delivery. They can kill off smaller competitors on any of those bases, unless the small competitor has a patent on a product somebody wants to buy."
-- Howard Markey, Former P Chief Judge of the CAFC
(In Some Patent Problems --Philosophical, Philological,
and Procedural 80 F. R. D. 203, p. 210)

Re:Only the paranoid survive (not) (0, Redundant)

CaptainPatent (1087643) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345123)

Exactly what I was going to say...

Did you steal my idea?

Re:Only the paranoid survive (not) (4, Interesting)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345129)

Guess what: everyone but you thinks your idea is stupid. Really. No one wants to steal it from you.

That's true, but it doesn't mean they're right. I had this great idea when I was in college, a program to convert sounds into images, edit the images and turn them back into sounds. I thought it was the greatest fucking idea ever. Yet when I would share my idea with other people they would go "who'd want to paint sounds up anyways?" or "it won't work".

I've been working on the idea for a few years in my spare time, and now I turned it into a commercial program [photosounder.com] which makes up for my main source of revenue and my other source of revenue comes from a consulting contract I got from getting an earlier FOSS implementation of it noticed by an engineer in some mining company.

The point being, no one would like your idea now, but wait a few years and your university will be glad to get money off what you made from it.

Re:Only the paranoid survive (not) (1)

johanatan (1159309) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345287)

I had the same idea between undergrad and grad schools (and I'm not joking). In fact, I thought about doing my thesis on the topic. My idea wasn't so much about being able to edit the images, though that would be the next logical step after visualization.

Re:Only the paranoid survive (not) (1)

Filter (6719) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345195)

This is some great advice, the value of an idea is in its execution.

Good ideas are often bigger than one person any way, do what you can to bring smart, mature people along with you. Dont be so small minded to think you have to be %100 of the implementation. It will be better to be %10 of a success than %100 of an idea that sits in your secrets.

Like many many people I see 'MY' ideas all the time in Popular Science or on the web. I may(doubtful) or may not(likely) have had the idea first, it doesn't matter now, I don't admire their idea, I admire their abillity to execute.

Re:Only the paranoid survive (not) (1)

mbullock (623257) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345263)

Parent makes an excellent point. The value of almost every idea lies in the execution. I'm sure there are a couple of novel ideas that pop up every century or so, but in general terms, ideas are cheap. Think you have a novel idea? Just type it into the google search box and you'll find plenty of other people out there thinking about the same exact thing. Value lies in executing great ideas in sound and efficient ways.

Re:Only the paranoid survive (not) (1)

balbord (447248) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345303)

At least one of my ideas got stolen by a professor of mine back in 94. He did some moonlighting for a private learning center I had the chance to visit a few years after he was my teacher.
I recognized my interface and asked what it was... it seems my teacher "custom designed" the application for them... and made some good money on the process. The bastard.

There was another incident, a year or two later, involving a major soft-drink brand who had one of those stylish mid 90's interactive stand which looked suspiciously like one of my projects. My teacher, who did some freelancing on the side, said I was crazy and that I could prove nothing. The bastard.

These were small projects... nothing worth patenting.

From Michael Abrash (5, Insightful)

Rei (128717) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345371)

In "The Zen of Graphics Programming", Michael Abrash (a co-author of Quake and inventor of Mode X) wrote:

-------------
Our world is changing, and I'm concerned. By way of explanation, three anecdotes.

Anecdote the first: In one of his books, Frank Herbert, author of Dune, told me how he had once been approached by a friend who claimed he (the friend) had a killer idea for a SF story, and offered to tell it to Herbert. In return, Herbert had to agree that if he used the idea in a story, he'd split the money from the story with this fellow. Herbert's response was that ideas were a dime a dozen; he had more story ideas than he could ever write in a lifetime. The hard part was the writing, not the ideas.

Anecdote the second: I've been programming micros for 15 years, and been writing about them for more than a decade and, until about a year ago, I had never-not once!- had anyone offer to sell me a technical idea. In the last year, it's happened multiple times, generally via unsolicited email along the lines of Herbert's tale.

This trend toward selling ideas is one symptom of an attitude that I've noticed more and more among programmers over the past few years-an attitude of which software patents are the most obvious manifestation-a desire to think something up without breaking a sweat, then let someone else?s hard work make you money. Its an attitude that says, "I'm so smart that my ideas alone set me apart." Sorry, it doesn't work that way in the real world. Ideas are a dime a dozen in programming, too; I have a lifetime's worth of article and software ideas written neatly in a notebook, and I know several truly original thinkers who have far more yet. Folks, it's not the ideas; it's design, implementation, and especially hard work that make the difference.

Virtually every idea I've encountered in 3-D graphics was invented decades ago. You think you have a clever graphics idea? Sutherland, Sproull, Schumacker, Catmull, Smith, Blinn, Glassner, Kajiya, Heckbert, or Teller probably thought of your idea years ago. (I'm serious-spend a few weeks reading through the literature on 3-D graphics, and you'll be amazed at what's already been invented and published.) If they thought it was important enough, they wrote a paper about it, or tried to commercialize it, but what they didn't do was try to charge people for the idea itself.

A closely related point is the astonishing lack of gratitude some programmers show for the hard work and sense of community that went into building the knowledge base with which they work. How about this? Anyone who thinks they have a unique idea that they want to "own" and milk for money can do so-but first they have to track down and appropriately compensate all the people who made possible the compilers, algorithms, programming courses, books, hardware, and so forth that put them in a position to have their brainstorm.

Put that way, it sounds like a silly idea, but the idea behind software patents is precisely that eventually everyone will own parts of our communal knowledge base, and that programming will become in large part a process of properly identifylng and compensating each and every owner of the techniques you use. All I can say is that if we do go down that path, I guarantee that it will be a poorer profession for all of us - except the patent attorneys, I guess.

Anecdote the third: A while back, I had the good fortune to have lunch down by Seattle's waterfront with Neal Stephenson, the author of Snow Crash and The Diamond Age (one of the best SF books I've come across in a long time). As he talked about the nature of networked technology and what he hoped to see emerge, he mentioned that a couple of blocks down the street was the pawn shop where Jimi Hendrix bought his first guitar. His point was that if a cheap guitar hadn't been available, Hendrix's unique talent would never have emerged. Similarly, he views the networking of society as a way to get affordable creative tools to many people, so as much talent as possible can be unearthed and developed.

Extend that to programming. The way it should work is that a steady flow of informa-tion circulates, so that everyone can do the best work theyre capable of. The idea is that I don't gain by intellectually impoverishing you, and vice-versa; as we both compete and (intentionally or otherwise) share ideas, both our products become better, so the market grows larger and everyone benefits.

That's the way things have worked with programming for a long time. So far as I can see it has worked remarkably well, and the recent signs of change make me concerned about the future of our profession.

tell people. (1)

oliverthered (187439) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344687)

If there going to try and take it and you've told outside people about it then can they still patent it. At least that should allow you to use your idea when you leave even if they also get to use it.

Don't worry (5, Insightful)

77Punker (673758) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344705)

I don't mean to sound rude, but you probably won't do anything anyone would care to steal (aside from another student) while you're in school anyway.

If you are doing something really interesting, use your own computer to do it. You could still discuss it with your professors and fellow students, but maybe it would be harder for them to take your work.

Re:Don't worry (1)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344763)

He's right. Short answer: get off of Slashdot and go speak with a lawyer.

I've thought about the same thing while signing similar agreements for employers(side note: apparently even underling technicians may be required to sign such agreements depending on the company).

I'm only a layman but I've though about working on sekrit projects on the side and on my own time while giving my professors(and employers as applicable) stale but workable and well-scoring "decoy" projects. As soon as you are free from the grip of the agreement, patent that MoFo or sell it outright for big $$$ if not wait for an employer who would allow you a good raise or maybe even some royalties.

Reality check: patenting an idea takes a lot of exhaustive research, time, and money. You may just be better off letting the university take your patent so that you can use it as a bullet point on your resume. Assuming you actually have something other than the idealistic expectations and hopes of a n00b.

Re:Don't worry (1)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344939)

Reality check: patenting an idea takes a lot of exhaustive research, time, and money. You may just be better off letting the university take your patent so that you can use it as a bullet point on your resume.

If he documents that he had the idea before the university did, then there's no reason he can't use the university as a testing bed for the product beforehand. If someone at the university develops it, he can sue that information to make his idea better. Since he's been thinking about these things for a while, the poster's probably got a good lead on anyone else who can develop it. He's thought of aspects that nobody else has and has a vision that nobody else does.

Re:Don't worry (2, Funny)

langelgjm (860756) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345253)

he can sue that information

Freudian slip?

Re:Don't worry (3, Informative)

NeoSkandranon (515696) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344929)

I don't mean to sound rude, but you probably won't do anything anyone would care to steal (aside from another student) while you're in school anyway.

It may not be fair to state this for a school career in general, but almost certainly as an undergrad your professors aren't going to be interested in any of your completed assignments.

Re:Don't worry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26345081)

heh, more like, "by and large your professors will never see any of your completed projects for more than a few seconds, if that, as an undergrad"

Some colleges are different (1)

characterZer0 (138196) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344709)

RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) used to (when I was there 1999-2004, I do not know if they changed it) have a policy that unless there was some other contract due to outside funding or some unusual circumstance, work done by the students belonged to the students.

Re:Some colleges are different (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26344949)

I've been to several different colleges and most of them left it to the professor, but they had to put it in the syllabus (basically the course contract). Oddly enough just about all the professors I had reserved the right to use any of your ideas and research for their own work without giving you credit. The only way not to accept the agreement was not to take the class.

Are My Ideas Being Stolen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26344725)

I think that's a good title for a song...

Re:Are My Ideas Being Stolen? (2, Funny)

cbiltcliffe (186293) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344879)

Are my ideas being stolen?
Is my mind being raped?
My intellect is being as****ked.
And now my ears they really gape.
(Like goatse, like goatse......)

Re:Are My Ideas Being Stolen? (0)

daVinci1980 (73174) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345229)

Moderators have no sense of humor. I found it to be both on topic and funny.

Develop your ideas on your own time and resources (5, Insightful)

homb (82455) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344729)

If you really want to disconnect your ideas from the University, you have to make absolutely sure that you don't develop your ideas on university time or property.
Therefore, document when and where you're working on your idea, and have evidence that can, as clearly as possible, make a case for your having worked on this idea on your own time, with your own resources.

Re:Develop your ideas on your own time and resourc (1)

FortKnox (169099) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344785)

Here's your best bet. Granted, I don't expect you to come up with the next big idea while learning to develop code, if you work on your stuff on your own resources and time, they have no rights to your code.

Just don't turn it in as a homework assignment ;)

Re:Develop your ideas on your own time and resourc (1)

CannonballHead (842625) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345027)

This is an excellent point, and many workplaces (as I understand it) are the same - stuff worked on on company time using company resources is owned by the company. You can do your own thing on your own time with your own equipment, but otherwise you're basically stealing company equipment for personal use. Yeah, school is cool and it has lots of resources you don't have at home, but that doesn't mean you can start a business with your school's equipment, hehe. Hosting a web host on the school's web server probably isn't a good idea. Of course, nobody would think of doing that, but it's the same principle with other university property that people think less of... like an internet connection.

Re:Develop your ideas on your own time and resourc (1)

joelmax (1445613) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345365)

Thats exactly it, if you want something to truely be yours, don't work on it at school or using school resources, same for the office as it works the same way there too. So really, if you do think of something, before you commit anything to a physical/digital media, you need to make a decision on what you want to do with it and how you want to handle it. Do you want to share it? Do you want to give it to the university/company/whatever, forsaking all your rights except intellectual property? Or do you want it to be all yours? Once you know that, then commit the information to the media form of your choice, ensuring to take the proper precautions if you want to keep it to yourself.

You send any great ideas to me (1)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344741)

I'm trustworthy and will take care of everything. That is your best course of action. In times of economic uncertainty and political turmoil this is especially true.

Protecting yourself? (4, Insightful)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344743)

Well, first, be careful what you sign. And second, don't use college resources or turn in any code from your project in as homework. People wonder why America is losing its edge and it's because corporations and organizations steal ideas from the poor to make themselves rich. The net result is there is no incentive for innovation unless it is under contract, NDA, lock and key. Which is another way of saying there will be no innovation, at least not in this country. The concept of intellectual property is artificial and harmful to the public good, but our legislators don't care because they've reduced the definition of the public good to the Gross Domestic Product.

If you want to innovate... Move to a developing country. The United States is just a stagnant cesspool when it comes to science and technology these days.

Re:Protecting yourself? (1)

CFTM (513264) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344837)

That's totally it! You nailed it! The Rich in America just steal from the poor!

Dumb da dumb dumb dumb.

Re:Protecting yourself? (5, Insightful)

The Ultimate Fartkno (756456) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344903)

Of course, there's a flip side to that as well. The American desire to get rich quick has completely polluted the whole concept of research and innovation for the sake of science and not just as a means to buy a solid gold Bentley. For every evil corporation that "stole" an idea from a student, I'd wager there's a student who went to a state school on a publicly-paid scholarship, came up with a million-dollar idea, and immediately went "MINE! MINE! ALL MINE!"

Re:Protecting yourself? (1, Insightful)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345197)

For every evil corporation that "stole" an idea from a student, I'd wager there's a student who went to a state school on a publicly-paid scholarship, came up with a million-dollar idea, and immediately went "MINE! MINE! ALL MINE!"

Yeah, but what's the point in funding education if not so people can make a contribution to society (and le gasp! benefit from it themselves)? Corporations by definition don't create anything -- people do. Corporations are what take from some people to give to others, as a social construct. And this is why they're evil, not because a corporation steals (it cannot do such a thing because it's an intangible), but because a corporation as a social construct enables a few to steal and profit from the work of the many. Tell Marx I said hi too, if you see him. ;)

Re:Protecting yourself? (1)

abigor (540274) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345215)

People wonder why America is losing its edge and it's because corporations and organizations steal ideas from the poor to make themselves rich.

Eh what?

Don't worry about it (5, Insightful)

igotmybfg (525391) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344753)

You just started taking CS classes? What are you worried about, someone is going to steal your Hello World or ArrayList implementation? Seriously though, anything you code in there has prior art - perhaps from the students who took those courses last semester.

Re:Don't worry about it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26344791)

This is what I thought, too.

Yes, I'm going to file a patent on "Calculating fibonacci numbers via recursion".

Re:Don't worry about it (2, Funny)

Samschnooks (1415697) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345023)

This is what I thought, too.

Yes, I'm going to file a patent on "Calculating fibonacci numbers via recursion".

Well, I'm going to try to patent this data structure where the data element also points to another one, so all the data elements "know" where the next one is. I'm going to call it a "Connected List". I also have a "Double Connected List" in the works too. I'll license them for 100 billion dollars! I'll be rich!

Re:Don't worry about it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26345155)

Like how the University of Illinois claimed patent on Mosaic to put Netscape out of business? Oh, wait... that did not happen...

IANAL, but I like acronyms.

Most software is protected by copyright, not patent. Anything developed while a student as a part of regular classes should be considered public domain. So if you have the fastest convolution algorithm ever figured out, do not put it into your discrete mathematics homework. On the other hand, if you make everything you do part of a BSD-style license while in the school, that means you would be free to use it once out of school. If it was done as part of your normal school work, then it has the bonus of being public domain, too. That allows you to build that new algorithm after school from the building blocks that may have been developed in school without running into problems.

Re:Don't worry about it (5, Interesting)

cvd6262 (180823) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345169)

I was also paranoid, but for slightly different reasons. I'm very open about my ideas and I worked in a lab as a graduate student that caught the attention of another university organization. They asked if we could meet for an informal "idea exchange," to which we agreed because, hey, we're all a part of the same university.

It turns out the organization had just been spun off the university into its own LLC and moved off campus. When we got to their office, the first thing they wanted from us was an NDA. We called bait-and-switch and asked them if they would mind signing an NDA for the ideas *we* would contribute. "That would defeat the purpose of this meeting," they told us.

So we signed, sat through a presentation of their work, gave no feedback and left. It wasn't that we were paranoid of them stealing our work, it was that we refused to get played like that.

Later, I spoke with an expert in my field, who is also an open-content guru, and I asked him how I could avoid things like that. He said, "Post everything you do to Sourceforge. Get it out there under GPL, or CC-non-profit license. If anyone wants to patented it, you'll have the evidence you need." (But that's not legal advice.)

I'm not sure if something like that would work at SUU (Go T-Birds!), since they could easily think *you* stole the code from Sourceforge, but it's an idea.

Re:Don't worry about it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26345221)

hahaha agreed OP

Document everything (1)

scsirob (246572) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344757)

Keep a very detailed diary of everything you work on. Names, dates, places, everything. Then if you are really paranoid, place the diary in an escrow service.

If at any point someone claims to have invented something and you know it's yours, you have everything there to prove it.

Re:Document everything (1)

sharkb8 (723587) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344875)

If you don;t share it with them, they couldn't have stolen it. If you keep your diary secret, it's not prior art, because it wasn't published. If you don't publicly use your ideas, those aren't prior art because there was no public use. Inventor's notebooks are only good for establishing the conception and reduction to practice of an invention.

Easy. (4, Insightful)

Dzimas (547818) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344759)

Don't share your brilliant ideas in class projects. You don't need to submit something novel or patentable for a school project.

Undergraduate? (1)

Johnny Mnemonic (176043) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344773)

If you're "just beginning to take" CS classes, I'll assume you're an undergraduate. I really don't think that you have much to worry about.

Nobody wants your homework. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26344781)

Maybe you think that the Magic Square solution you stole from the internet needs to be protected but it doesn't. Maybe you should just chill a little.

This suggestion was invented by Shampoo.

If your ideas are so good, (4, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344797)

If your ideas are so good, even before you graduate from college, then surely you will have even better ones later on, after you have more experience? What's with the fear of sharing your ideas? You can be open, there is nothing wrong with sharing, if you do, then you will find other people have things to share with you, too.

But if you really care, don't work on any of your ideas using school resources, and don't mention them to people. Then no one will steal them. Patents are kind of expensive for a student, and may not be valid anyway.

Once again, stop being so selfish. You'll be happier in life (and richer!) if you just focus on producing, and not on preventing other people from producing.

Sorry... (5, Funny)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344799)

But your idea for a beer bong has already been taken. And don't even get me started on your ideas about transgendered midget porn.

Re:Sorry... (1)

H0p313ss (811249) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345251)

...don't even get me started on your ideas about transgendered midget porn.

*rushes off to register domain*

Publish it. (2, Insightful)

cbiltcliffe (186293) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344801)

Nobody can steal it and patent it if you publish it. Of course, that means you can't patent it, either.

But publish it right here on /.

I won't steal your idea....honest....

Re:Publish it. (3, Insightful)

PPH (736903) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344961)

Nobody can steal it and patent it if you publish it.

This is the USPTO we're talking about. They'll grant a patent on the wheel if you can obfuscate the claims adequately.

Federally Financed and School Resources (5, Insightful)

DodgeRules (854165) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344807)

I think the key statement in the previous article that you mentioned was the following: "Colleges and universities once obtained fewer than 250 patents a year, but that was before the Bayh-Dole Act gave them ownership of inventions developed through federally financed research." FEDERALLY FINANCED RESEARCH. If you are a part of any federally financed research, then yes, your invention belongs to the college/university. The other key statement was "Whether or not students are aware of it, the NYTimes reports that most universities own inventions created by students that were developed using a 'significant' amount of schools resources." Are you using school resources to create/discover this invention? Just because you are going to school there, doesn't mean that anything you create while there belongs to them. Sitting in your dorm creating the design for cold fusion using your own PC would not allow them to take it from you. Of course, the usual IANAL applies to this post.

Unlikely (0, Redundant)

sugarman (33437) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344819)

If you "just got started taking Computer Science classes", I'd say its relatively unlikely that you need to be worried about IP theft. Your implementation of 'Hello World' probably isn't going to revolutionize computing.

This doesn't mean that it isn't something to be aware of in the future, especially as you get closer to your senior project or grad school work. Right now however, you probably should be more concerned with other classmates, depending on how draconian your school is with regards to similar / identical code beding submitted for projects. Learn what your institution's policy is, and you'll likely find the answer to your original question as well.

It's Hopeless! (1)

gooman (709147) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344825)

Best to drop out now.

Of course, you could ask if this is the policy of your school?

Nah, just drop out.

Re:It's Hopeless! (1)

kpainter (901021) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345207)

Best to drop out now.

Didn't some guy that "invented" an operating system after learning BASIC do that?

If you really had a good idea (1)

myspace-cn (1094627) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344827)

You wouldn't be mucking round with it in a CS class.

So drink up. Smoke one if you need to relax.

You really need to relax, perhaps if you relax you can get a really good idea.

Or alternatively...

What's your idea?

Copyright it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26344901)

Add copyright notices to all your source files, reports and other documents. If you discover the university is using your ideas, go ahead and sue them for infringement.

You think you can do anything? (1)

bogaboga (793279) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344919)

So you think you can do something about the potential that your alleged ideas may be stolen while at university or after you leave?

I doubt you can do anything because for most universities and places of work, the work you do while there belongs to the university/workplace and not you, I am afraid.

How can someone steal your idea? (1)

gillbates (106458) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344947)

The worst they could do is take it and commercialize it. But they'll never take it from your brain.

Two points (1)

qw0ntum (831414) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344951)

First, it's unlikely you're going to come up with a huge, novel idea in the course of one of your class projects, especially in the first few years of your career. Not impossible, but unlikely. If you do, and if it's an academic idea, and you know it's really big, then you probably should talk to your professors about it. A big academic idea means writing a paper, and you want the help of someone who knows that business. You'll co-author the paper with your professor, get a great reference and have publication to boot. Professors generally are happy to take on undergraduate research students, especially if they are smart enough to generate publishable research. Also, they can tell you if the field already explored your idea 30 years ago and found it to be less huge than expected (you'd be amazed at how much research has already taken place in CS).

If you come up with some kickass business idea, people generally aren't going to take it because they're not as excited as you. Take good precautions though when talking about it, of course, but recognize that at some point you're going to have to let people know because it's hard to go down that path alone. It's also good to have someone to bounce your ideas off of; We've all had a few "brilliant" ideas that we realized were crap as soon as we tried explaining them to someone.

Second, most people you will come into contact with on a daily basis aren't out to steal your ideas (as I mentioned above, others typically aren't as excited about them as you). As long as you're not an asshole, and you have healthy, friendly relationships with those around you, most folks you know in a university setting will be glad to help you turn your idea into reality. One piece of advice that I was given is to keep a notebook of your thoughts as they relate to your ideas. Keeping a notebook (a la Da Vinci, not a laptop) generally is a great idea, but it can be helpful in proving ownership of your idea and that it was developed off university/company time.

I've found it to be true. (5, Insightful)

Jack9 (11421) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344969)

Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats.

                Howard Aiken
                US computer scientist (1900 - 1973)

Work or Ideas (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26344973)

Are you worried about your ideas being stolen or your work? They are two entirely separate things. AFAIK, just because you come up with some idea doesn't entitle you to profit from it: you have to implement it and convince people to pay for it.

If it is your work you are concerned with then it is yours from the moment you create it (for so is the very definition of copyright), unless you sign something explicitly giving it to your University.

If they patent something you do, and you have a record of you doing it beforehand (preferably a year before hand) then you have prior art which invalidates their patent.

resistance is futile (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26344977)

all your base are belong to us

Simple solution (1)

Xest (935314) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344989)

Do anything that matters in your spare time on your own PC, just do what you need to do to get decent grades during uni time- chances are if you're inventing something that really is new then it's well above and beyond what would be expected for top marks. It would be impossible for a university to ask that top marks style stuff be something new and groundbreaking of every student.

I suppose there are fringe cases where you may really, really need the university's computing power, or at least you may think you do, but in this case innovate, either pay for some cloud computing time or build a distributed system with your friends or similar.

I guess it's kinda different for post-grad stuff but at that point you need to build a relationship with them, if you're paying them a small fortune to do post-grad stuff then you're well within your rights to ask what you can and can't keep in terms of intellectual property. If they're paying you as a researcher or similar then it's the same as any other job- tough shit because they're paying you to come up with this research and these new ideas.

The other question is of course, are you really doing anything so groundbreaking it's going to be worth patenting anyway? I've "discovered" things once or twice before only to find I'd been beaten to the punch albeit hidden in the deep depths of the net that I only discovered after doing searches that were somewhat related to my solution that I'd never have found had I not figured out what the solution to the problem was in the first place.

What's the University's Policy (3, Informative)

Zordak (123132) | more than 5 years ago | (#26344999)

If the University's policy is that work done by students is the property of the university, they are not "stealing" your ideas. They are commercializing what you have assigned to them. Find out what they give you in return. Even if all you get is your name on a patent, it's a great resume builder (remember, whatever your agreement says, a prof. can't just steal your idea and claim it's his; a patent MUST list all of the inventors and only the inventors; if an inventor is intentionally omitted, or a non-inventor is intentionally added, the patent is VOID).

I don't represent you. This post is not legal advice.

I believe the only answer is... (1)

shakezula (842399) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345001)

...more tin foil on your hat. That'll keep the thought-police outta your head.

I need help (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26345013)

I have an idea and business plan that revolves around a website. After developing the idea, my 'partner' has outsourced everything to someone who has money. Now because of my age and lack of experience im afraid someone else is going to profit from my IP, can i file a patent protecting myself!?!

I remember graduate school (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26345037)

All the professors, who had research grants for various topics, basically asked their students to do the same research as final papers. It was a great way for them to develop new ideas.

My friend and I came up with a computer vision algorithm we thought was pretty clever and the professor wanted our source code. But since that wasn't part of the assignment, we refused.

Yes, it really sucked.

Keep it to yourself. (4, Insightful)

saterdaies (842986) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345045)

I like lists:

1. Ideas cannot be patented or copyrighted. If you let an idea out of your head and someone hears it, they can use it. Now, you can ask people to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) and non-compete agreement, but I doubt your professors would sign.

2. If someone else tries to patent something you have created, you have prior art. You can't get a patent for it, but you can void their patent. Yeah, it's a pain, but it can be done.

3. I'd be more worried about other students. Your professors probably have a sweet deal. At my school, it meant 6-figure salary and teaching 0-1 classes per semester and spending the rest of one's time investigating what they found interesting. Why would they leave that for the competition of free enterprise? Your other students might have dreams of grandeur and snatch your stuff more readily.

4. If you're a grad student doing research for them and they're paying you and giving you free tuition, you likely have no protection since they're your employer and what you make is legally their property unless you've explicitly made another arrangement.

I'm from the camp that ideas are a dime a dozen and that execution is what matters. If you talk about it, most likely no one will use your idea because they won't execute. Most likely you won't either - not because you're bad or lazy, but because executing something from scratch takes a lot (both work and chance).

So, don't worry too much and if you don't want someone stealing your idea, keep it to yourself.

This comment is patent pending (1)

Foofoobar (318279) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345051)

At the top of every project and homework assignment, stamp it 'patent pending, TM 2008 [your name]. All rights reserved' Its annoying but your teachers get the idea. Some teachers may give you crap but others will most likely think it a good idea and some students may even follow your lead.

If you are working on a masters project, you may find it hard to get your professors to sign an NDA however.

Re:This comment is patent pending (1)

DaveV1.0 (203135) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345141)

That would only work if have not assigned all rights to the school as a condition of attending the school.

That was MY idea! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26345059)

Reminded me of these guys [invent-tech.com] and their infomercials.

It happens (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26345101)

As an engineering student i know for a fact that one of my composite designs was used by my faculty adviser/mentor for a profitable research project.

What did i get? 8 bucks an hour as a lab assistant and the grade of a B for my troubles.

Get used to it.

You dont think the company you will eventually work for will profit off of all of your hard work and ideas? Think again

Its called industry... thats why they pay you

Seriously, what would you expect? (2, Insightful)

holophrastic (221104) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345113)

If you paid a few million dollars for infrastructure, then tought people how to use it, and taught them how to do things and how to think, and then they used your tools, and the knowledge you taught them, on their premisses, while you were teaching them, to invent something, you'd expect it to be yours too.

They aren't stealing it from you. You're giving it to them. There are some schools that opt to waive this obvious right, but they do so as an incentive to attract students, not because they don't have the right in the first place.

If you don't want your ideas to become theirs -- and it's up for debate that they'd be your ideas in the first place since you're being taught -- then follow a few simple guidelines:

      - don't do your work using university tools/machines. If you didn't purchase that time with the particle accellerator, then it wasn't yours to use.
      - don't do your work while taking a course that teaches you how to do that kind of work. Otherwise, it's simply your homework.
      - don't do your work during school hours, on school premisses, or with school personnel. If it's more them than it is you, who are you foolin'?

Look, it's quite simple. If while going to school to take theorhetical mathematics, you spent your nights in your basement, in your own home, with mastercraft tools, building car motor that runs on urine, your university won't claim that they own it just because you added 2 + 2 in your notes -- and no judge will back them up if they try.

Contrast that with taking an applied engineering and mechanics course, and spending the hour before and after every tutorial session in the school's mechanics garage, with the school's million-dollar nasa engine prototype, building a car motor that runs on urine. If it was your idea -- and wasn't suggested by your professor as a part of teaching -- it wasn't your tools, your investment, or your anything else. And odds are your professor gave you special credit for working on it.

In short, if you work for someone else, and you don't spend any money of your own, it's not really your invention. Ideas are crap, there's no shortage of them. Work, infrastructure, tools, resources, and investment is for real. Only the work part could be considered yours, and you probably got helping hands from other students and faculty in the process.

Re:Seriously, what would you expect? (1)

daVinci1980 (73174) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345373)

Except that as an undergraduate, you're not being paid by the university. The university is being paid by you and the [state|fund] for the purpose of educating you. Public universities aren't (supposed) to be profit making endeavors. They exist to educate students and further research that isn't profitable (yet). Private universities *may* be profit generating, but they're not supposed to. They're still supposed to be institutions of learning and research.

Now, 100% of what you said applies to corporations.

The only thing u can do... (1, Interesting)

hesaigo999ca (786966) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345133)

I had the same problem, when I saw a few of the other students work suddenly appearing on places like sourceforge, with people slightly changing code (naming conventions) but then you would have to say that this is a small price to pay to learn what you need to know. I followed this rule to a tee...

1- Kept my projects short and sweet to get the credit...and always tried to involve something in my project that I would need for my "real" project.
2- Described in short what I wanted to do, with slight differences on things I already knew, that way when it came to understanding the core of the logic, the person would have a hard time really knowing what I was working on.
3- Beat them to the punch, as much as I don't like sourceforge, too many rules for using your own code...etc....I do thank the stars they offer a package where I can upload my project for some to see(those i say is permissible) and gives me a level of protection for my source code.

I wish you luck, as this is only as good as the person getting their project to work.
If you must, ask them to sign a disclosure form, that they can legally grade you without you losing your work. If they really isn't anything worth while...they will sign it, if they think they might want to keep it, they say no...then you know to change your project to something smaller less like what u r trying to accomplish and more like a regular average Joe project.

Simple (1)

dedazo (737510) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345145)

If you come up with the next big thing using your school's resources, then you need to come up with some sort of shared ownership agreement. I believe MIT does this?

For example, if you develop a cool new shared memory cache super-duper distributed hash algorithm that works only on massive clusters, and you use the school's clusters to do that, you're toast.

Simple, really? It's no different than the corporate world.

On the other hand, if you have a sneaking suspicion that you're on to something, then I suggest doing all that on your own time and on your own computer and network connection. Don't turn it in as homework or share it with your teachers.

Come up with another next big thing. (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345159)

People that have the idea for the next big thing, really have lots of ideas for lots of next big things. They just can't help it. If you've only got one idea, probably it sucked anyway and you shouldn't get too wrapped up in it. We all can't be creative people, any more than we can be rock stars.

well look to your betters (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26345165)

Leonardo Da Vinci had the same fears and would obfuscate his drawings and encode his handwriting. So encrypt stuff.

Other than that, I don't think anyone gives a crap about what a CS student has for ideas. It takes a lot more than just an idea to get anything done. Genius really is 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration.

And as a 31 year old, I can say that in the business world nobody would listen to me at all until I was about 26 or so simply due to age. Now it's sometimes. Unless you can successfully implement your idea mostly yourself, nobody will be stealing your ideas.

Also, get off my lawn.

Just open source it (1)

k_187 (61692) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345171)

Isn't this what open source is designed for? Let the community have it and let it grow. If you set it free it'll come back to you, like Bambi or something.

I invented Android... almost (1)

gillbates (106458) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345177)

A few years ago a colleague and I were talking over lunch, and I suggested that the next big thing would be an open platform for mobile devices - kind of like the IBM PC in the 80's. By offering a standard platform, consumers would have the same choice which drove the PC revolution.

A few back-of-the-napkin calculations later, and we figured we could bring it to market for about 10 million USD.

We went back to work, never formed a startup. Here, a few years later, Google is bringing the Android to market.

The lesson: good ideas are not that uncommon. Having the drive, vision, and backing of venture capital is. Maybe you have a good idea. But there's no point in hiding it, because chances are that someone else also has the same idea. The worst you could do is to keep it secret while someone else patents it.

If you think it is good, discuss it with others. If they think it is good, document it, (Witnesses!), and discuss it with someone in the industry. Publish - that will protect you from the patent trolls. But don't think that keeping it secret will do you or anyone else any good.

You should be OK (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26345181)

It sounds like your an undergrad, if you are you most likely won't be doing anything steal-worthy in class. Generally, if any ideas will be stolen it will be the research efforts of a masters/ phd student.

Do you use Kleenex? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26345201)

What about Puffs? Store brand? They're all the same right? Yet all those can still make money. Just because you thought of something or didn't doesn't mean you can't still profit from it, patents be damned. Ford paid an engine patent in the beginning and still made a killing.

There are no ideas in CS to steal (1)

slmdmd (769525) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345209)

Example: 2+3+5 = 10
So MS would come up with this brilliant idea 2+3+5 = 11 -1 = 10 and then patent it.

May be you can patent - triple mouse clicks to open porn.

I once took an business startup class years ago. (1)

Samschnooks (1415697) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345249)

One of the speakers was a banker. To make a long story short, he doesn't sign NDAs for these reasons:
  1. He doesn't have the resources to have a lawyer look at it.
  2. Your idea is not as unique as you think. (He says every couple of weeks someone comes in with the same idea.)
  3. If word got out that he blabs, no one would do business with him.

If you look at all of the worlds great inventions, others were working on the same thing at the same time. The guys that got credit were the ones who got there a little earlier than the rest. Just look at the invention of the airplane as an example. Folks all over the World were working on it but the Wrights got there first for powered flight. And if you look at modern aircraft, their designs are based on French inventor's ideas - who were working on powered flight at the same time as the Wrights. The Wrights did try to sue those others, but that's another story.

Anyway, the Next Great Things are so fringe, even if you told the World about them, folks will think you're crazy.

Don't sign a patent assignment agreement (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345255)

In the US if you did not sign an agreement assigning your inventions to anyone else you own them. If you did, they aren't being stolen: you sold them.

New Idea (1)

kwishot (453761) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345261)

Aha! Thanks for the great idea!

1: Become Professor
2: Steal students ideas/work
3: Profit!!!

Read the fine print!! (2, Informative)

Casaubon (162022) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345273)

Funny. I remember when I was in University (early 90's) I read some fine print in a student manual that plainly stated that the university had the right to patent your work. The notice wasn't hidden, but it was probably ignored by many people.

Check with the University (2, Interesting)

Gribflex (177733) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345283)

Each University has their own policy on this, and will make it pretty easy to find. Most University policies that I've looked at look something like this:

'Any work that you submit as part of your course requirements is the property of the University. Any work that you do while working on a research project for the University is the property of the University.'

Not surprisingly, this is the basic premise of many employment contracts as well.

'Anything you make while working for us is automatically our property.'

There are always exceptions, of course, for work that is done by you, on your own time and equipment, that has nothing to do with your coursework/job.

I've never really felt that these policies are that obscene, and I think that if you take a few minutes to think about it objectively, you may feel the same. In no case is someone laying claim to anything that might fall out of your head, only the material that you will produce at the explicit request of someone else (either your instructor or employer).

Ideas? (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345289)

I hope you don't seriously believe your idea is going to get you anything without some implementation behind it. I suggest you google your unique idea, and then patent it, and try suing all the other suckers who have the same idea.

The argument it court should be (1)

comrade.putin (1235862) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345295)

Simple. Yes, the idea was tested and developed using the school resources. BUT!! Tuition is payed specifically to use those resources. The resources belong to them, but for a fee, they allow you to use it, something like, licensing. Analogy to school's reasoning is: Adobe should own every picture created or modified in Photoshop, because the software is theirs, they simply license it to you.

Enlist the help of Uncle Sam (1)

Loki_1929 (550940) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345301)

If you have a particular idea that's really -that- good, make a copy of everything you have on it, then mail it to yourself certified mail. When you get it, DO NOT OPEN IT and lock it in a fire-proof safe or put it in a deposit box at your local bank.

Certified mail is time-stamped by the Federal government. While not fool-proof, it's the closest thing you can get to proving you had the idea before someone else.

Step 1: Get a Life (1)

mpapet (761907) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345337)

Seriously. Wherever this way of thinking came from, you should stop it now.

How do I tell if any of my projects while attending classes will be co-opted by my professors or the university itself and taken away from me?

Do the same boring stuff and get an A. With all of your spare time go out (as in outside, to a new place) with friends new and old, meet and date as many girls as possible.

Oh, and finally, the Next Big Thing is usually built on top of a waste heap of NextBigThing business failures and copycats the size of a small mountain anyway.

Work on something ordinary and boring, make it extraordinary then maintain it as a GPL project. The old way of "wood shedding" just doesn't work out in the U.S. If it is by extraordinary chance a novel idea it'll be copied in 1/5 the time somewhere else in the world and/or litigated into oblivion.

Vonage is a good example of what happens to a good idea in the U.S. these days. They had a boring idea, "cheap phone service" and made it good enough. They were then patent litigated into oblivion by the telcos ridiculously vague and not-unique telco patents.

Imagine instead a decentralized (bittorrent-like) VOIP network of Free components with your name at the head of the project. It's a great calling card and the telco's can't possibly keep the genie in the bottle with that model.

Blah. Too many words, too many ideas. Get a life first.

Cut funding (0, Troll)

jav1231 (539129) | more than 5 years ago | (#26345351)

Federal funding of universities needs to be cut. Many are hording large pools of cash and yet keep increasing student tuition. Couple that with profiting off of their students ideas and frankly we shouldn't continue to pour tax money into these entities. The time has come to start auditing schools and supplementing funding based on need.

Your Idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26345375)

Unless the professor assigned the project, imediately upon realizing that some research development may be patentable take it out of the school, give it to a relative, friend whatever. Stop all research on it at school and find another project to cover your school requirements. Yeah I know they will ask but you can say that the research was going no where and just let it drop.
Legal no, but it's your work, they should not get the benefit.

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