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Kuda Musasiwa was fuming recently on Twitter that people were blatantly ripping off his business, Fresh In A Box. The legality of that matter paled once it turned out that Fresh In A Box is actually a total rip-off of another family business started in the United Kingdom. The man ripped it all off, name and business model.
Recently, on Twitter again, I saw a post by an app developer who was looking to patent his app idea before launching it. I advised him not to because it is a waste of time and money.
Why are we as Zimbabweans still so concerned about people stealing our ideas? My guess is because we do not understand how the law works, but more so, how the world works. As an app developer, I have a plethora of prototyped ideas that never got to see the light of day simply because of my laziness. Let us take a walk into my hard drive shall we. I have a beauty product e-commerce platform, a local city guide for outgoing people, a natural oils guide with an e-commerce spin, a pharmacy medicine finder app and a whole host of others. All these are prototyped and never got past the eyes of a few of my close friends and I just told the whole world about them. Am I stupid?
Quick Legal Talk
We will use an example of Snapchat and Instagram and the now annoying feature of stories that does nothing but chew our data (seriously people, we love things, so please stop posting videos on stories and statuses). Facebook cloned the Snapchat stories feature into their Instagram app. “Lawsuit!” some of you might shout, since Snapchat patented its stories feature. The problem though, is that they patented their execution of the idea, not the idea itself. The idea of sharing an image or video to your friends is something that cannot be patented, just like Fresh In A Box cannot copyright the word Fresh when used in the context of selling vegetables.
The take away from this is that an idea cannot truly be patented or copyrighted under any law. It is an idea, a thought, or a concept that already exists out in the real world. What does hold value is your user-base, your market share or your execution of the underlying idea into a product or service.
Nothing new under the sun
Whatever your idea is, someone else has thought about it and probably made it or just got lazy like me and forgot about it. A quick Google search (or Duck Duck Go if you’re paranoid) will show you thousands of results of people sharing ideas that you can take freely and execute. So go ahead, steal the ideas. When Facebook launched, there was already Friendster and MySpace; WhatsApp came in and killed Nimbuzz and Mxit. The idea does not count for much, it is the work you put into creating the idea and delivering it to the masses that creates value.
But my idea is a real game changer
Now let us say you have come up with an idea that will disrupt the market, have investors scrambling for a piece of the pie with customers throwing money at you. This means that you have your work cut out for you, so do the work. Get on with market research, create wireframes and prototypes or whatever may be required for your idea to become something real you can show to people. By the time you complete these steps, you will either have realized that you have something of value, or that you need to wake up and smell the coffee.
No matter how many times we talk about this, it seems people feel like they can walk around shoving N.D.A.s into people’s faces. If you do have the money it costs to hire lawyers and have them draw up N.D.A.s and file patent copyrights for an idea, invest the money into creating the product and solving problems for your target market. And with that I must leave you, I just got an idea for a web platform that I can sell to the government for $US1 million.
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