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

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  • by alain94040 ( 785132 ) * on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @01:25PM (#26344633) Homepage

    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.

    -- [] -- where software developers and citizen journalists create fair businesses

    • by dday376 ( 1035900 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @01:29PM (#26344715) Homepage

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

      • by Nerdfest ( 867930 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @01:42PM (#26344987)
        This idea was invented by Shampoo.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          I would find it more likely that it was invented by Cologne. 2000 years of Chinese Amazon history can't be wrong!

      • by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @02:02PM (#26345331) Journal

        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: (Score:3, Informative)

          by dougmc ( 70836 )
          It's worse than that. If you're on a salary, your employer (and that paper you signed) says you're always on the clock, and therefore if the ideas are even remotely related to what your employer does, they belong to them.
        • by Surt ( 22457 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @02:36PM (#26345873) Homepage Journal

          Also, you can get away with striking such clauses in the employment contract almost everywhere. I've done it at 5 jobs now and not one has blinked.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Panaflex ( 13191 )

            Yes, absolutely do this. I've done this at almost every job except for my current (but I'm a principle developer and have rights through my patents).

            Most developers don't have worries anyway - since most are simply writing business & service software. Very few people are developing real products that can garner patent protection.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by potat0man ( 724766 )
          So life in corporate America is now what's considered the "real world"?

          God help us.
        • by Sparky McGruff ( 747313 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @03:43PM (#26347229)

          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.

          To put the IP rules of most universities in context: They ain't that bad. The prevalent rule (law) in place is the Bayh-Dole act that regulates patents/IP derived from projects receiving federal funds. And, since most university research labs are federally funded to some extent, it's generally the rule that applies.

          In general, if you're a graduate student, researcher, or faculty working in a University research lab, you are expected to approach the University IP office if you think you have something patentable. They will review it, and if it's deemed to be valuable IP, they'll file the patent or other protection, and they will handle licensing the technology, etc. If the patent/IP ends up worth nothing, then the University eats that cost. Any profits from licensing/etc are divided among the stakeholders -- with the inventor, the inventor's department, and the university all getting substantial shares, as well as a share going back to the funding agency (or agencies). Everything I've read suggests that a similar arrangement exists for non-federally funded work (e.g. through private funds, or using University resources), though the "stakeholders" are different.

          So, while the University may "take" your idea, they will do the legal work to patent it, enforce the patent, and license it. And the named inventors will get a cut, usually between 20 and 50% (depending on the number of stakeholders, and the arrangements that the University has with them).

          From my discussions with people who did development work at research universities before the Bayh-Dole act, this current setup is a vast improvement. Before the B-D act, it was very hard to get University IP people to move on technology in its early stages (e.g. when it needs to be patented), so, for example, you often couldn't get them to patent drugs before they entered clinical trials. Of course, after a successful clinical trial (when the drug is worth $$$), it's too late for patent protection. And, the terms were far less favorable to the inventor than are currently seen with the B-D act (e.g. the University took all the $$ and gave you a nice "thank you" letter).

          • by bzipitidoo ( 647217 ) <> on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @06:47PM (#26350363) Journal

            Is B-D such a big improvement? That's not what I've read.

            You make it all sound cut and dried, and it isn't. It's a real nightmare trying to figure out what's valuable, and who gets compensation for the hundreds of ideas that assist the central ideas. It can't be done. Most people who maybe ought to see a little something under this total ownership system never do. Should all those giants upon whose shoulders we stand be compensated? What about the chip designers who, inspired by several diverse research papers, produced some IC that was cleverly used by another group to come up with a new way to sequence a genome, which then enables yet another research group to discover a new drug? What about the researchers who wrote those papers, and who in turn cited several dozen other papers done by yet more researchers? Where is the line between stealing an idea and being inspired by an idea?

            Then, you have people hoarding ideas as if to talk about them is to lose them. This thinking of ideas as a scarce resource that must be carefully protected and managed is a real impediment to progress. Currently, pharmaceuticals is the area most impacted by this, but the disease is spreading. This is not what a University is supposed to be about. Universities are NOT short sighted profit centers trying to wring every last penny out of Intellectual Property. Businesses can try that, but universities should not. That's why universities are largely funded by other means, so that this destructive secrecy does not take hold and reduce a university to a collection of small minded guilds jealously guarding and hiding their techniques from any possibility of "exploitation" by "outsiders".

            Allow the Intellectual Property Rights proponents to impose their vision, and then you'll really see us lose our technological lead. It's been happening bit by bit over the years, and we're the worse for it. That we now have students wondering if they will be "ripped off" and their ideas "stolen" is not a good sign. We've really been doing our kids a disservice, to have their heads filled with that kind of narrow possessive garbage so they could worry about such a thing.

    • by moderatorrater ( 1095745 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @01:37PM (#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.

      • by Dekortage ( 697532 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @03:55PM (#26347475) Homepage

        Windows wasn't the first OS or even graphical OS to market. ...Doing it right is more important than doing it first.

        In fact, "doing it right" may have nothing to do with the concept, and everything to do with how you sell and license the concept. Windows is an excellent example of this.

      • by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @05:28PM (#26349123)

        Let me just confirm your suspicion from someone inside the game industry. Good ideas are a dime a dozen. Great ones go for about a buck fifty.

        I listen to people (or read online) all the time who believe they have a million dollar game idea, and somehow have the notion that this idea alone is worth anything. True value is realized in building your game from concept to prototype to finished project, and the thousands of adjustments you have to make along the way. All the ideas in the world won't do you a bit of good if you don't have a talented team with the artistic vision and technical prowess to execute it.

        Even in my day to day experience, I'll sometimes come up with a cool idea for a game I'm currently working on, and mention it to the lead designer. For some reason, I'm still surprised by how often the designer had the same idea, but hadn't gotten around to formally incorporating it into the design document yet.

        This isn't to say there aren't a lot of people with great ideas, but people tend to overvalue them significantly. If you can actually turn that game idea into a playable prototype, the value increases by about a thousand-fold. See: Narbacular Drop / Portal.

    • by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <akaimbatman@gm a i l . com> on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @01:43PM (#26344997) Homepage Journal

      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.

    • by Irish_Samurai ( 224931 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @01:47PM (#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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      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

    • by 4D6963 ( 933028 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @01:49PM (#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 [] 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: Photosounder (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TaoPhoenix ( 980487 )

        I peeked at it. Interesting idea, though a little tricky to determine some important information because your demo is heavily crippled.

        File Size: Is that "Sound-Picture" smaller than a typical Mp3? Does your full version even fully support Mp3?

        If a picture turns out to be more compressed than a straight audio file, that might be a neat way to save space.

        • by 4D6963 ( 933028 )

          Oh I investigated the question and there's no way saving an image is more efficient than an MP3, regardless of the compression, unless you're prepared for massive quality loss. However, I think some sort of vectorisation could be developed to store more efficiently graphical data, in this case you could probably end up with extreme sorts of speech compressions.

          No, MP3s aren't supported yet, only OGGs and WAVs, but it's on the TODO list. A short sound every 3 seconds = heavily crippled? If that's about the r

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by wavedeform ( 561378 )
        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
        Yeah, but this is not a new idea either. Metasynth [] does more-or-less the same thing, and to a lesser degree IRCAM's AudioSculpt does too. It's very rarely the idea itself that's important, but the implementation.
        Software is not a product, it's a process.
    • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @02:05PM (#26345371) Homepage

      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 unearthe

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by muridae ( 966931 )

        Abrash is mostly right. Most of those 'great ideas' are either horribly broken or already exist in other forms. Broken because the person has this great idea that doesn't account for how things actually work. And other times the freshman think they have made this great leap, which they have for freshmen, but just reimplemented a K-D tree or something else. One or two out of those thousands of ideas might be worth investigating, but not under an NDA. Someone has an idea that they can't implement them self an

    • by John Sokol ( 109591 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @03:30PM (#26346961) Homepage Journal

      I partly agree.
      Most ideas are considered stupid by most people.
      Even more ideas that are good, were already thought of and may even be on the market already.

      But still there are the few really ground breaking ones.

      If I had a dime for every one of my ideas stolen I'd be rich.

      Here is where I disagree, execution is a matter of resources.

      I had the very first audio every on most computer platforms. From digital audio on the Apple II, Lisa and Mac, C64, IBM PC and XT and even the Tandy Model 2 and 3.
      I had the first PC digital audio products on the market the Sound Byte, then someone literally took my name trade marked and and sent me a cease and desists on the name! So I renamed it Audio byte. []

      Then another company (first byte) reverse engineered my Digital Audio on the PC speaker and patented it, and tried to sue a number of game companies who also reverse engineered my code and used it. This was Intel Assembly language, almost as easy to reverse as JAVA. So many of these paid me and used my Prior Art to toss out the patent suits.

      But the kicker was after 3 years and selling some 5000 units at $30 each, Creative Labs came out with an inferior product for $115 and sold 47,000 units in there first month. Past us by like we were standing still. I found out that the same VC we pitch financed them while not financing me. And there plan used us as an example of market feasibility!

      So much for execution. It's all a matter of resources. If you don't start off with enough money, and try to boot strap from sales like I was doing, you going to get killed if it's a really important product.

      I have repeatedly had this happen with different ideas. Many I did execute on and for some was even selling and making a profit.

      * Wearable computers with VR goggles 1984

      * Hand held Oscilloscope 1984

      * VOIP (internet phone calls) in 1987

      * Streaming internet video 1988.

      * 13000 streaming video viewers (VQ) with 384 video servers on SUN Microsystems network 1990

      * Online Banking for Wells Fargo, 1992

      * Livecam (JPEG, GIF, and MPEG1 & 2, modified H.261) 1994

      * The CDN where I built the first on for video in 1994. IN 1997 we had over 1M simultaneous views at 56K. One of the largest consumers of Bandwidth on the Internet, and no one knew who we were, because it was adult.
      I can directly trace back to specific individuals where Genutity's Hopscotch network and Digital Islands CDN directly copied what I was doing!
      Peer1 that host Youtube is now using one of my methods that I pioneered for CDN.

      * load balancing of internet servers 1995

      * Caching web servers 1996

      * TCP/IP Selective Acknowledgment implemented in my ECIP. 1996 []

      * Streaming H.263/MPEG4 video and MP3 1996/1997

      * the first Stand alone IP Camera 1996

      * Fanless servers to improve reliably in our CoLo's 1997 (used heat pipes on CPU, HD and PS)

      * The first CCTV DVR 1997 done in Partnership with Korean company. Also included the first multichannel(16 input) video capture board.

      * Cell processors & Blade servers []

      * silent computers * computer cooling in 2002

      My new stuff I am keeping under wraps now till I can get better resources lined up.

      I am not listing these to brag, but to show how much effort I have put in over the past 20 years, with great technical success but only partial business success.

      It's always boiled down to one thing, lack marketing budget. Lack of money to manufacture. Lack of the "right connections" to raise money or make large sales because I wasn't part of the good old boys/rich kids club. There is a class system in this country whether you believe it or not.

      Almost every one of these ideas I filed or tried to file a patent on, then ran out of money to comp

    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @04:43PM (#26348371)

      Every student talks about their story ideas like they're some sort of brilliant trade secret. But over the course of the semester, two things always become obvious:

      1) The story ideas they thought were worthy of stealing almost always sucked on an epic level.

      2) Even if their ideas didn't suck, their writing skills are so mediocre that it's very unlikely they would be able to articulate said ideas into any publishable form anyway.

      I've encountered hundreds of students who THOUGHT their ideas were worth a damn, but maybe only a dozen who may have been right.

  • 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 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 77Punker ( 673758 ) <spencr04 AT highpoint DOT edu> on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @01:29PM (#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.

    • 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 fr
      • 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 (Score:4, Informative)

      by NeoSkandranon ( 515696 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @01:39PM (#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.

  • 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.

  • by homb ( 82455 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @01:30PM (#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.

    • 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 ;)
    • 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 serv

      • This was the comment I was looking for. The policy at my university (IIRC) was that any work you did on university property (as in their systems) belonged to the university. Also - Anything I did for homework, or as part of a class project also belonged to the university.

        If I developed something on a computer in my dorm (even using the university internet access) it was considered mine. Which I thought was completely fair.

        1) Anything I'm doing for homework isn't valuable beyond that class, or the curricu

  • 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.

    • If you don't trust him, you can trust me. I happen to have a very rich friend in a country that is certainly not Nigeria. But he needs to escape some political uprising, and needs to store his millions in someone's bank account. He'll be more than glad to pay you a sum of *1 million* dollars for your assistance. Everything's taken care of and you don't have to show me a line of code!

  • by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @01:30PM (#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.

    • by CFTM ( 513264 )

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

      Dumb da dumb dumb dumb.

    • by The Ultimate Fartkno ( 756456 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @01:38PM (#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: (Score:2, Insightful)

        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

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        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.

        There are a few of us "real" scientists left, who do science for the sake of science and for the benefit of humanity -- not to get rich. Actually, I don't know of any scientists who are in it for the money, but I do environmental work and not in a medical field or something like that. Nominally, when a university wants to g

    • by abigor ( 540274 )

      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?

    • by Rakishi ( 759894 )

      You're an idiot, don't think I can say it in any nice way. Now let's destroy your incoherent half-rambling argument. More specifically you're a fool who ha no idea about history and thinks the grass was greener a century ago under the lovely coal blackened sky.

      Ideas have been stolen since long before the US existed. Hell, some of our most famous inventors stole many of their ideas from others. As for intellectual property, you know why patents exist? So that a poor person can make money from their invention

  • by igotmybfg ( 525391 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @01:31PM (#26344753) Homepage
    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.
    • by cvd6262 ( 180823 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @01:51PM (#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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        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

      • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @02:45PM (#26346029) Journal

        The best advice my I've had in this area was from my supervisor, before I started my PhD. He said (paraphrasing slightly) that PhD students rarely, if ever, came up with an idea that was worth more than the student. The best investment you can make early on in your career is in your reputation.

        I'd sum the whole thing up with one sentence: Bad scientists are worried people will steal their ideas, good scientists are worried that people won't. Use the most permissive license you can find that still requires attribution, and give your ideas away. The ideas are not valuable. The person who can come up with the ideas is valuable. The more ideas you've given away, the easier it is to persuade people that you can create the one they need.

  • 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.

    • by sharkb8 ( 723587 )
      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.
      • by Creepy ( 93888 )

        On that note, you can patent ideas, even if you don't know how to implement them, so you should just patent everything if you're worried about it. For instance, I remember Woz invented something that allowed characters (letters) to be printed to the screen in the early Apple days, but RCA (?) had a patent on the idea with no idea on how to implement it.

        Personally, I've had several patentable ideas that I'm glad I didn't act on. I was working on my own implementation of Light Mapping at my university befor

  • Easy. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dzimas ( 547818 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @01:32PM (#26344759)
    Don't share your brilliant ideas in class projects. You don't need to submit something novel or patentable for a school project.
  • 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.
  • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @01:33PM (#26344797) Journal
    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... (Score:5, Funny)

    by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @01:33PM (#26344799) Journal

    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.

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

      *rushes off to register domain*

  • Publish it. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cbiltcliffe ( 186293 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @01:34PM (#26344801) Homepage Journal

    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. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by PPH ( 736903 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @01:41PM (#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.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Too late...already been done.

        An Australian LAWYER...(who'd athunk it?)
        has patented the wheel, a "circular transportation facilitation device"...:-)

        Check it out or google:

  • by DodgeRules ( 854165 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @01:34PM (#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.
  • Best to drop out now.

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

    Nah, just drop out.

  • 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.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by TimSSG ( 1068536 )
      I understand the "places of work" because they paid me money. But, if the universities has the right to my work, then I have the right to be paid minimal wage for my time for both the good and bad ideas I develop. Tim S
  • The worst they could do is take it and commercialize it. But they'll never take it from your brain.

  • 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 publicat

  • by Jack9 ( 11421 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @01:41PM (#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)

  • 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 y

  • by Zordak ( 123132 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @01:43PM (#26344999) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • by saterdaies ( 842986 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @01:45PM (#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.

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

      • Thats only in the case that the school is giving you a free ride. In which case you are selling your soul. However, you do have a bargaining chip and can negotiate got that far because other schools want you too. Cross out the sections you don't like, have a lawyer present to discuss the terms, etc etc. They do negotiate if they want you on board.
  • It happens (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    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

  • by holophrastic ( 221104 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @01:49PM (#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.

    • 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.

  • 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 differenc

  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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 mark

  • 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.

  • Aha! Thanks for the great idea!

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

  • by Casaubon ( 162022 )

    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.

  • by Gribflex ( 177733 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 @01:59PM (#26345283) Homepage

    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).

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Not to say that paranoia is good, but after thirty years of software development as well as patented product development you can't be naive.

    When it comes to software, the ownership issue for better or worse is actually quite simple. Very rarely if ever do you have clear and legal ownership of what you code.

    Check with the schools legal department as many schools claim complete ownership of anything you do including your groundbreaking PHD Thesis.

    When you finaly get a contract or permanent position

You will lose an important tape file.