February 12, 2003
dispute leaves one friend hurt
Question: (S-007) About 15 months ago, I was winding
done from a set of tennis over drinks with one of my best
friends. As we were talking, I suddenly had an idea for
what I thought was a clever new product concept. When
I told my friend the idea he smiled and said something
like, Yeah, that would be great. The idea
drifted out of my consciousness almost immediately, as
I assumed it had for my friend.
week I was catching up on local gossip with my wife. She
casually informed me that my friends wife told her
that her husband has just sold his rights in a new product
to a big company with nationwide distribution. As it turns
out my best friend had developed my idea
designs, patents, copyrights, etc. and then cashed
in on it. When I confronted the friend he said that he
didnt really think I was that serious about my idea
and that it wasnt til months after I told him the
concept that he thought it might be worth pursuing.
I was devastated. I probably dont have any legal
rights to my idea, but its not the money part of
this thats plaguing me. There has been an integrity
break with my long time friend that is irreconcilable.
Yet, our wives and kids are inseparable. How can I be
true to myself, and at the same time minimize the impact
of my issues on others?
Response: Your concerns are understandable. Your friendship
has been tainted by what you feel has been a breach of
trust, honesty and possibly some of your own naiveté.
So, how do you minimize the impact of this disappointment,
not only for you and your buddy, but also upon your families?
are three relationship "checks" that could minimize
damages to your friendships:
Assuming that you will not elect to call together the
other friends who gathered with you after the tennis match
many months ago and ask them to "reconstruct"
the conversations regarding the source of the idea; and
assuming that you have no desire to participate in any
kind of legal action, then you are completely clear that
the issue is really more about the friendship than the
dollars. If you pursue any legal recourse, the consequences
to the relationships may be serious. Make your decision
and don't look back.
Find an opportunity to clarify with your friend the nature
and depth of your concern. There is always the possibility
that you miscommunicated the seriousness of your business
idea and your desire to solicit feedback about its viability
prior to your own implementation. Regardless of how this
conversation turns out, you will have learned: ways to
improve the clarity of your own communication; the receptivity
of your friend to share ownership for the "foul-up"
in your relationship, and, more effective ways to discuss
proprietary information, even among friends.
Remember that "integrity is congruence between what
you say and what you do, as well as what you say about
what you did". If you avoid legal confrontation and
find a shared ownership for the problem - then the relationship
can emerge even stronger than before. You own some of
the responsibility because you discussed a business idea
without fully disclosing (or possibly even fully understanding
at the time) that you intended to make it your own.
may have been an expensive lesson. What was or is at risk
are money, friendship and family relationships. Count
the costs and learn from the experience.