Hayley Peterson recently wrote an article for Business Insider telling the tale of some interns who worked for Taco Bell in the 1990s and claimed they came up with the idea for the now wildly-successful Doritos Locos Tacos. Hayley’s article can be found here: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/former-taco-bell-interns-claim-145114531.html
Hayley’s article provides a good real-life context for issues that come up all the time in intellectual property law – who, if anyone, owns the rights to an idea and can someone sue if someone else steals their idea? Fortunately for Taco Bell, it made sure that its interns (and presumably all employees) signed a written agreement giving Taco Bell the rights to the ideas developed by its employees. As one intern candidly admitted, “I’m sure I signed away that anything I pitched to them was their property anyway . . . I would just like someone to recognize that it was a good idea.”
The saga of the interns who supposedly came up with the idea for Doritos Locos Tacos emphasizes what we always advise our clients: it is absolutely essential that all business that are in the “idea business” and/or deal with intellectual property have written agreements in place concerning intellectual property and use of ideas.