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Unsolicited Email

Let’s say a person “X” sends an email with what he/she thinks is a cool idea for your company, along with their resume.  A few times “X” screws up and sends the email with the wrong name.

You then find out that this person has sent out the same email to all the execs in your company.

What would you do if you received such an email?

no spam
Wednesday, October 30, 2002

This is the case where the best policy is to return the message unread.

Of course, you already read it.

A simple messaging of an idea can get you into trouble if the person believes that you have "stolen" their idea.

Oh well.  Probably the best thing to do is bring them in for an interview and make them sign a prepared NDA agreement that states that they can't sue you if you accidentally use the idea.  I'm pretty much against needless legal paperwork, but given that most people place too much stock in the idea and not enough in the implementation, IMHO, it's something that we're all forced to do.

So it's pretty unreasonable to assume that execs in a company have no contact.  So it's fair to act with that knowlege.  And it's probably fair to use the knowlege that said person can't spam all of the execs of a company without screwing up. ;)

w.h.
Wednesday, October 30, 2002

"Make" them sign the NDA? How will you "make" them exactly? With Judo?

Rob Moir
Thursday, October 31, 2002


"I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse."

Leonardo Herrera
Thursday, October 31, 2002

You'd convince the person involved with reasonable arguments.  Explain the situation, explain how the brain works, explain how one can't help being influenced by everything one sees, and ask him to sign the Non-Disclosure Agreement.

Brent P. Newhall
Thursday, October 31, 2002

Signing an NDA after the fact is as much use as a sieve made out of tissue paper.

NDA's without a contractual context are only marginally more useful.

Simon P. Lucy
Thursday, October 31, 2002

i.e. in the process of the interview (which seems to be their goal right now) you make them sign a document for "your mutual protection".

It's actually quite surprising because most people want YOU to sign some contract before they will tell you their brilliant idea that turns out to be about as elementary as a bubble sort.

w.h.
Thursday, October 31, 2002

"i.e. in the process of the interview (which seems to be their goal right now) you make them sign a document for "your mutual protection"."

I don't think you could word one as clearly as you'd need in order to make it work without it being obvious, which would make the signee a fool to sign it. And if they were a fool how did they come up with an idea worth stealing.

Robert Moir
Thursday, October 31, 2002

Do I get this right? You get THEM to sign a NON-disclosure agreement saying that they've no objection to having disclosed their idea to you?

Stephen Jones
Thursday, October 31, 2002

I've read the original message three times, and I've read the replies.  I have no idea what any of you people are talking about.

Anonymous coward
Thursday, October 31, 2002

I'd want to meet him. I like enthusiastic people with "big ideas." It's ballsy and strange to do what he did. Take him to lunch and play this out, see what happens next. Maybe he's smart, has a lot of energy, and isn't afraid of doing something unusual. Maybe he's an evil manipulative loser that's setting you up in a big five year plot to sue you. Yeah, right.

Don't be a pussy and retreat into some lame fear of hypothetical legal voodoo scenarios that armchair lawyers have dreamed up. No offense, but nerds just love to do this. I think they've all got these antisocial tendencies buried deep within themselves, and just love to cook up over complicated social chess plans for "winning."

The comments above of trying to trap him into some NDA or some other legal mumbo jumbo, THAT is evil. If you considered this, then you have to seriously evaluate your life. This is a perfect example of the neurotic antisocial behavior that corporate minions find so easy. Don't be ashamed, this is built into human brains: to make up a little tribe around you, then label everyone else a STRANGER and be completely unethical and immoral in your dealings with them.

Resist this instinct. It is completely uncivilized. Don't succumb to the "I don't know you, so you are a POTENTIALLY VERY EVIL STRANGER" world view. Relax, take some deep breaths, and start talking to some of these strangers. They are nice people, just like you and me and all the other little nerds here.

anonymous (in a friendly way)
Friday, November 01, 2002

Is this really a big problem? I'm not lawyer,
but if this guy sent you unsolicited email
about an idea he had, that is entirely his problem. If you want to make use of that, it's up to you. The only protection on an idea or invention is a patent, and if he hasn't got that, and you haven't signed anything to say you won't use it, you are free to do what you want.

I believe that in many countries, such as Europe, disclosing details of an invention before you have applied for a patent automatically invalidates a future patent application.

If he was sending you copyright material, such as a program or a book, that would be different, as a work is considered copyrighted whether you have applied for it or not.

Of course you might still want to talk to him, but it seems to me that if you ignore him and then later come up with a similar idea, he isn't going to have much of a case legally.

Any latent lawyers out there want to confirm this?

David Clayworth
Friday, November 01, 2002

If he can reliably show that his was the prior idea and that the only place that knowledge was gained was from him then he would still have the same intellectual property rights.

A patent is a right of exclusive use of an idea for a period of time.  It doesn't mean that without a patent there are no intellectual property rights.  They just need proving differently.

The publishing of the idea to others is a form of copyright.  Though email is not acceptable as a form of legal document (currently), it could form the basis of circumstantial evidence showing knowledge and the date that knowledge became known.  If push came to shove, then the organisation's email database could be disclosed to the litigant much as Microsoft's was to the court.

I should have been a lawyer...

Simon P. Lucy
Friday, November 01, 2002

Simon, I think you may be wrong. My understanding is that, at least in Europe,
an invention (as opposed to a copyrightable work) is not protected in any way unless there is a patent for it.

David Clayworth
Friday, November 01, 2002

You're wrong David. 

Whatever you produce, unless you specifically assign your IP, you retain intellectual property rights to it.

Patents are only one way of controlling that right, and have to do with enjoying exclusive use of that right for a period of time, unless you grant licences to third parties to use it.  In Germany, I believe, even if you assign IP you still have some kind of right as the original author.

Copyright, the ability to make copies and derivatives of an original work, although primarily about written works, including music, could be used to protect ideas if those ideas were written in such a way as to have them fall under the law of Copyright.

Patent  and Copyright Law are methods to prove and determine ownership of novel ideas and works.  However, without a patent one still has intellectual property rights over one's ideas, its just harder to prove.

Simon Lucy
Saturday, November 02, 2002

David,
At least in the US, the first inventor has the rights to the invention (invention being used in the patent office sense). He can't actually enforce those rights without applying for a patent (whether or not it's granted), but nothing stops him from applying 2 or 3 years down the road and then suing.

David Young
Saturday, November 02, 2002

One thing that is not being made clear here is that patent and copyright are different things. In general a patent protects a process, whereas copyright protects words, music, painitings. Trademarks are generally a separate fileld again.

Also there is the added complication that soiftware patents are (rightly in my opinion) not accepted in the EU.

If the guy has given you an idea then you can go ahead and "steal" it with no problem in Europe because you can't patent an idea.

Patent law is the highest paying speciality in a high paying field. This is because ot the difficutlties and uncertainties involved. Unless we know the jurisdiction that is applicable, and the exact content of the emails and what was inteneded to be done with them, I fail to see how any meaningful judgement can be made.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, November 02, 2002

I went and checked this. In Europe and Canada at least, a patent cannot be applied for on an invention that is already in the public domain, even if you invented it. In some countries (Canada is an example) you have a twelve month grace period, after disclosing it, in which to file a patent. But other than that, if you can show that an inventor gave you details of his invention before applying for a patent that is usually enough grounds to invalidate any future patent application.

In the US I'm not so sure about it, but I would advise you to check on the rules, because my understanding is that in the US the invention is owned by the first person to file a patent, and not the first person to invent.

All of which I think leads to the advice to the originator of this thread - if someone tells you about an invention, and they don't have a patent, there is nothing legally to stop you using it. If you want to use it later, just check to see if a patent exists, and if not, same applies. And if you are feeling nice, advise the person who sent you the invention details that they should take out a patent on their invention before telling anyone about it.

David Clayworth
Monday, November 04, 2002

Forgot to say in the previous email that
the only way to legally prevent someone using an invention is to own the patent. An unpatented invention can be used by anyone. Again, copyright is different.

David Clayworth
Monday, November 04, 2002

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