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My Sneaky Friend Stole My Business Idea

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After telling my friend about a business idea -- she stole it right from under my nose!

Carolyn writes: About a year ago, I told my friend Pat about a business idea I had. I described it in detail and even shared the clever name I had come up with. I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. She seemed intrigued at the time, but didn't really say much or exude any vibe that she thought I was onto something. Anyway, life got in the way. I have a full-time job and not a lot of free time, so I never did much of anything with the idea ... but I remained hopeful that I would one day.

woman talking on phone while men read newspaper

I recently opened the local newspaper and saw an ad for "my company" -- the name and the business idea just staring me in the face. I called Pat and started raving about how I couldn't believe this could happen, and she calmly interrupted, "Carolyn, it's me. I started the business." She then starts telling me how she figured if I didn't do anything with it in a year, that I wasn't going to, and how she had been thinking about it for a year. She incorporated the name, bought the domain name, etc. I exclaimed, "It was my idea, my name, how could you do this?" She said once I shared it, it wasn't mine anymore. I am still stunned. What do you think?

Leslie Adler:
Dear Carolyn: If The Friendship Court had the power, I would throw Pat in friendship jail and throw away the key. As I like to say, in my "lawyer language" ... "this sucks." Pat could have done this so many different ways, one of which would have been to ask you to collaborate. Instead, she committed a lie of omission by telling you nothing and stealing your idea.

I am a friendship cheerleader, in general, but I don't think this issue can be remedied. She didn't seem to show any remorse when you found out what happened, and someone who tells you that once you share an idea with your friend, it is no longer yours isn't likely to be offering to make you a partner in the venture now. Besides talking to this "judge," I think you should consult a lawyer.

What do you think? Has something like this ever happened to you?

next: Mom Fined 1.9 Million for Illegally Downloading 24 Songs
15 comments so far | Post a comment now
Mom2two June 19, 2009, 9:27 AM

This is legally actionable on your part. Please do consult a lawyer. I hope this ends in your favor.

Anonymous June 19, 2009, 9:35 AM

Lawyer up!

maeby June 19, 2009, 10:36 AM

definitely sue her pants off! she even admitted to it already!

Cyndee Woolley June 19, 2009, 2:46 PM

Seriously, what do you think you are going to get by lawyering up? A big fat bill and a year or more of extra stress while you dwell on a bad situation.

If she is a startup, you might be able to shut her down but what kind of monetary damages will you really get?

And, can you even prove that you gave her the idea? It’s one thing for her to admit on the phone, but how much weight will that have in court?

Your time is better spent with your family, getting better at your job, or starting a new business opportunity.

Good luck :)

MelMe June 19, 2009, 3:28 PM

Save your reputation and take the high road, she got this one over on you - move on and make up a better idea, perhaps become her competition and use your prowess to leap over her. Lawyer fees and time will not change the outcome except by you moving forward and coming up with something even better - YOU CAN DO IT :-)!

Meemee June 19, 2009, 3:39 PM

If she’s really your friend, talk to her about it. It is your idea, and she should give you the opportunity to collaborate on it.

If she refuses, maybe you should count yourself lucky that she just stole your idea, and nothing more.

Melme June 19, 2009, 3:51 PM

PS - Don’t share any more ideas with her!

lori June 19, 2009, 4:18 PM

Don’t share anything with her anymore!!

Marge June 19, 2009, 4:25 PM

Pat is not and was not your friend. No friend would do something like this. Jail of any kind would be best.

RachelAZ June 19, 2009, 5:47 PM

Drop her as a “friend”. Tell her she sucks, not only as a friend but a human being as well. Then spread the word on the internet about her bad business morals & ethics (or lack thereof) and advertise in the same newspaper and hope she goes under. Karma’s a B!!!

Laura June 19, 2009, 11:03 PM

If she was truly a friend, rather than assuming you weren’t going to do anything with this, she would have called and offered to set this up WITH you. Dump her like the egocentric idea-sucking vampire that she is. Sue if you like,but you’d probably be better off (and wiser)just deleting her from your life.

Chrissy June 22, 2009, 1:02 AM

I mainly agree with Laura.
But seriously, it’s not that hard or takes that long to register a domain name. Maybe 10 mins. As filing a business name with the state? Print the form out from the Secreatary of State website, fill it out, send a check for te registeration fee and mail it in.
You didn’t even do that?
You were waiting for “some day”?
Lots have people “wait” for some day and guess what - nothing. They don’t lose weight, don’t go back to school, don’t buy a summer cottage, take a foreign vacation or start a business.
Pat should have asked you how serious you were or if it was just talk.
But how serious were you if in a year you took not action?
And RachelAZ - Pat could turn around and lawyer up and sue Carolyn. That’s really bad advise.

steve jaubert March 31, 2010, 11:17 PM

It happened to me too. Those kind of people are just pretenders and it comes down to a good act of superficiality on the part of them to make others believe they are friends and they talk all that talk about good friends but deep down they don’t really stick by it when the chips are down but i do believe there is a higher reckoning and it will come back to haunt them. In the future absolutely never talk about anything that could make you money around anyone.

smumeralluddy March 31, 2011, 4:17 PM
Melody June 7, 2011, 8:20 PM

Recently a friend of mine were working on owning a business together. I came up with the name, the signage design which was approved by the city, and ideas of what we could do with the retail side of the shop. We got into a disagreement and talked things out. The next day she went without me and registered her own corporation name and then purchased a business license with the name I came up with in her name. I told her before we went into business that I didnt have cash but I had credit and I could work on fixing the place up and be able to put the utilities in my name. Well, she wanted 70% of the business and said I had to work up to earning the 30% (now this I guess I had to do in addition to putting the bills in my name and putting stuff on my credit cards) she said I still hadn’t earned up to that. So she then brought her personal storage to the shop kids toys ect. and it is still there 2 months later. She said that she had the deposit taken care of come to find out she only paid half of it and had to pay the other half by Aug. Then she assured me in front of the landlord that the rent for May would be no problem because we would be opening one side of the shoppe and making money off of it while working on the other. I wasn’t going to sign the lease but I did because if something happened I wanted to make sure she couldn’t lock my things in. Well things happened and she tried to lock me out but she couldn’t but now I’m on the lease which is past due and we couldn’t open like we were suppose to because she didn’t want to work on the side that could open first she wanted to get the bakery done first and we argued over that until I finally saw through her lies. Now she’s told me to move my things out which I am but she still has the sinks I purchased and other items as well as all of the work to help make the shop that much closer to opening. And she wants to keep my name I came up with and that my husband owns the domains for. I have lots of items on my credit cards and hours of labor and utilities and the rent PLEASE SOMEONE HELP ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!what legal rights do I have I just want to recoup some of my money back and my name and get my name off of the lease. The landlord was right there when we told him of the plans to open the retail first and when she assured him and myself we would be open and the first months rent would be covered and not an issue.

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