In starting a business, being unique is overrated. Some have made millions or billions of dollars through adopting an idea that’s not even theirs. Backed with lawyers and big funding, big businesses were able to take advantage of ordinary people who made profitable ideas.
A graduate student from the Columbia University, Gordon Gould developed the first theoretical equipment for creating lasers in 1957. He also invented the term “laser” to stand for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.” Unfortunately, Gould thought that he needed to have a working model first before claiming a patent for the device. In 1959, his colleagues from the same laboratory had filed patents for the laser and later sold them to corporations. This resulted into Gould’s 30 years of fighting with the US Patent Office to claim the rights to his invention. Eventually, he won the long legal battle and received 48 patents plus millions of dollars in royalties.
Nikola Tesla invented the transistor radio when he discovered that his “Tesla coils” can transmit messages over long distances by setting them to resonate at the same frequency. He patented his Telsa coil in 1891.
Meanwhile, Guglielmo Marconi was working on his own long-distance transmitter. He tried to submit patents for his invention but other inventors’ filings were considered first to ensure that his idea was unique enough. Undeterred, he experimented with the Tesla Oscillator and had worked with Tesla.
In 1904, the US Patent Office decided to award the patent for being the first to achieve radio transmission to Marconi. This infuriated Tesla and he attempted to sue Marconi, but didn’t successfully prosecute due to lack of finances. The patent was only re-awarded to Tesla on his death in 1943.
Facebook is the biggest and most popular social networking site to date, but you cannot consider it an original. Founder Mark Zuckerberg was rumored to have stolen the idea from his Harvard classmates, who were founders of ConnectU. The issue was debated and settled in court, circulated in the news and made into a movie.
Zuckerberg also took the entire platform of Friendster to create a new website. Friendster owned major patents in social networking, so Facebook bought them all for $40 million in 2010 to ensure that its social growth would continue to increase.
4. Quick release socket wrench
Peter Roberts was an employee of sears when he invented the quick release socket wrench. He thought of patenting the device, but he was advised by a colleague to submit it as a suggestion to the Sears’ head office. Following the advice, Roberts recommended it to Sears, and the store told him they did not think the invention would be very profitable. However, Sears actually made a market study for the device that revealed a huge market without telling Roberts. When the company sold 26 million of his wrenches and earned $44 million in one year, Roberts knew about it and sued the company for fraud. In 1976, a federal jury agreed with him and awarded him $1 million in damages, and in 1989, he settled with Sears for $8.9 million.
PayPal is the most trusted global payment system being accepted for international money transfer transactions, but the revolutionary idea wasn’t originally theirs. In 1998, an online person-to-person money transfer service named Billpoint was launched. Top auction site eBay swiftly integrated it into their system then. However, when competitor PayPal was emerging as a more popular choice, eBay decided to phase out Billpoint and eventually bought PayPal. This caused the pioneering company to shut down in 2003.
Stealing of ideas might probably be common in the entertainment industry too. Disney, being a major producer of fiction for the younger generation, has been accused of plagiarism on several occasions.
For instance, The Lion King was a huge box-office success for Disney, but it was believed to be copied from a Japanese cartoon Kimba the White Lion because of its striking similarities. Also, Finding Nemo was almost a carbon copy of a French story Pierrot the Clown Fish with a very similar plot and characters. Disney denied any of the allegations, as well as other lawsuits filed to them for copying ideas, and has always won in the court.
Also, a young artist has seen her Alice in Wonderland artwork appearing in some Disney merchandise such as T-shirts and cosmetic bags, without Disney asking her permission and without giving her a share of the money they earned through it.
7. Dip & Squeeze
Heinz’s Dip & Squeeze ketchup packets let you tear its end off so you can dip and squeeze in your sauce and avoid ketchup spillage. A businessman named David Wawrzynski claimed he pitched the design to Heinz but was told that the idea wouldn’t work. However, the company released an almost identical product after a few months, prompting Wawrzynski to sue the giant food company for allegedly stealing his idea.
Pong, an arcade video tennis game by Atari, was huge seller in its early days as it was known as the first video game. However, its similarity to Odyssey’s Magnavox game was so remarkable that led Odyssey to file a lawsuit against Atari. Eventually, Odyssey won their case, but only few people heard of Magnavox, while Pong went on to become famous in the video game history.
9. Anyway Up Cup
Mandy Haberman came up Anyway Up Cup, a cup designed for toddlers to avoid spilling. She decided to present her idea to big baby industries, which showed interest in her device, but did not consider it valuable. Haberman decided to sell it herself, but just a while after her product hit the shelves, she observed that Tommy Tipee launched an identical product. Bothered, Haberman noticed the sameness of the company’s new product to hers and discovered that Tippe bought it from a company she once pitched her idea with. In the end, she was able to prove that the Anyway Up Cup was her design and received royalties.
Hulu provides online streaming of TV shows for high quality, free of charge. They pretty much acquired the idea from Joost, an earlier Internet TV service found by the creators of Skype. However, Joost’s downside is that users need to download software, then the shows you want to watch. Because of that, it would take a while before you can start watching anything. Hulu took advantage of this and created a platform that will enable users to watch shows instantly, putting an end to Joost.