The concept of Snapchat, a now 800 million dollar app, was created by the two college roommates, Evan Spiegel and Frank “Reggie” Brown IV, at Stanford University. In order to bring this into life, Spiegel hired programmer Bobby Murphy to help write the code and assemble the app. Together, they created an app that would be downloaded on nearly 19% of all iPhones and 8 million daily users.
In light of this, a recent controversy has started up around the question: who owns the right to the app? Well, when the patent papers were filed, Spiegel and Murphy split the profits and shares 60-40, cutting Brown out. However, does the idea guy, Brown, deserve a share of the pie? The surprising technical answer is no, despite the common belief that companies are built on ideas. The standing legal frameworks in the US, in contrast to the ‘ideas’ perspective, allocated patent ownership to hard, grueling, carpal-tunnel-creating labor that builds ventures like Snapchat; a belief shared by Spiegel and Murphy. So in this context, Brown, Spiegel, and Murphy all agree that Brown contributed three things to the company: first, the idea that the picture would be deleted, leaving the taker in control; second, he envisioned the logo for the company; and third, he filed for the patent. According to the agreed consensus, other than that, Brown apparently contributed very little if anything to the company. There is a deeper legal basis for this as well. To explain, in an alternate perspective, what would have happened if the company failed? What would he have lost? Nothing. Spiegel and Murphy would have lost over a year of their work and a significant amount of start-up capital. Brown only started asking for money and filed a lawsuit after the company started making headway. Was he being respectful to his friends by not taking away money that they might never gain, if he sued before the company made any money, or did he have cold feet and hesitant to invest his time and money until the company was well off the ground? Even if it is the latter, he might still deserve some credit. Whether he will is still yet to be decided and a concern for the legal storm on the horizon.