Startups Copying Startups: How To Protect Yourself From Intellectual Theft
If you didn’t read Eco founder Andy Bromberg’s Twitter thread last month accusing Pebble’s cofounding team of the boldface plagiarism of both Eco’s marketing messaging and business model — along with a blow-by-blow accounting of what he called “lying and espionage” in attempts to surface Eco’s intellectual property, you’d be forgiven, because it turned into a non-story.
What Bromberg alleges is shocking in almost every aspect, but the thread ends with a whimper, an “agree-to-disagree,” with no further action to follow.
What isn’t shocking is the fact that this kind of fudgery isn’t new or particularly unique. I’m more than a little disappointed that nothing came of it, because when no action is taken, it’s a clear signal that it’s cool, bro. No harm, no foul.
Get outta here with that. Your intellectual property is the most valuable thing your startup owns, so you need to cover your assets.
Steal First and Refuse To Apologize Later
Whether some old-fashioned startup thievery was committed is left up for debate. However, a lapse of ethics is most certainly at play.
What the accused team allegedly did was straight-up wrong. But this is far from the first time a successful startup has found itself the victim of some level of intellectual theft in the name of all being fair in love and business. Companies copy each other all the time, right? It’s almost a form of flattery.
Until it happens to you.
Bad Actors Are Everywhere
Once your startup makes some successful public noise, the copycats will come out of the woodwork.
It doesn’t even have to be an external actor. As an example, last week I got a question from an entrepreneur who has repeatedly been burned by trusted employees leaving his company to start their own ventures — with a business model and marketing plan based totally on what they learned while working for him.