Author Topic: When someone uses your idea.  (Read 3074 times)

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LadyL

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When someone uses your idea.
« on: December 13, 2012, 04:31:18 PM »
I am taking a graduate seminar in which we need to plan and write up a research proposal as our final project. The project can be based on any of the topics we covered all semester. During the class where we covered "Topic ABC" I asked whether anyone had ever done a study where they looked at x, y, and z variables (my question was very specific). My professor said that to their knowledge, no one had ever done so, but that it was a very good idea. At that point I started thinking about using that idea for my final project.

The next week after class I was talking to a classmate about what we were going to do our final projects on. She said she was a little worried because the course topic is somewhat out of her area of expertise, but that she " was thinking of doing it on Topic ABC looking at variables like x and y." It sounded a LOT like the idea I'd pitched in class, pretty much the same thing actually, which took me aback and I wasn't sure what to say, so I didn't really say anything. I ended up scrapping my original idea and finding another topic because I didn't want to risk presenting the same project as her (it's a very small class, 6 people, and we would be presenting the projects orally in front of everyone for about 30 minutes each - pretty boring if 2 people pick the same thing). Also I figured since the class topic is closer to my area of expertise than hers it would be pretty easy for me to come up with a different topic anyhow (it was).

We had our presentations this week, and my classmate did indeed present the exact project I'd proposed. She hadn't thought through some of the required logistics though, and the professors were a bit critical of her presentation as a result. My proposal went well and I got positive feedback.

My classmate is a nice person and I don't think she knowingly "stole" my idea, I think she heard it in class and maybe forgot the source. Or maybe she wanted to go with an idea that it sounded like the professors already liked because she was concerned that her own ideas weren't as good, or something, and didn't think about the fact that I might want to use my idea as my proposal. All of this made me wonder, at the point when she told me she was thinking about using that topic, what would have been a polite way to say "Oh, you mean like the idea I was talking about in class?" without it seeming like I was trying to lay claim in a "mine, not yours!" kind of way? And if I had actually been really invested in the topic, is there any way I could have told her that I was already thinking of using the idea without it being awkward? At the time I mostly couldn't come up with any sort of phrasing that didn't sound in my head like "You're coooppying meee!" (thanks social awkwardness).


TurtleDove

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Re: When someone uses your idea.
« Reply #1 on: December 13, 2012, 04:44:20 PM »
All of this made me wonder, at the point when she told me she was thinking about using that topic, what would have been a polite way to say "Oh, you mean like the idea I was talking about in class?" without it seeming like I was trying to lay claim in a "mine, not yours!" kind of way? And if I had actually been really invested in the topic, is there any way I could have told her that I was already thinking of using the idea without it being awkward? At the time I mostly couldn't come up with any sort of phrasing that didn't sound in my head like "You're coooppying meee!" (thanks social awkwardness).

I don't think you can point out it was your idea without it seeming like you are laying a claim to the idea.....and I don't think it's a bad thing to point out it was your idea.  I think the moment has passed for this particular situation, and it seems like it worked out well anyway.  Should something similar happen again, I would just be factual and non- accusatory and honest if you want to lay claim to what is your idea: "I am also doing my project on x and y aspects of A, B, C - don't you remember when I talked about that in class last Tuesday?"  And if it would make you feel less anxious, ask the professor how he would prefer you handle both of you doing the same project.

Kaypeep

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Re: When someone uses your idea.
« Reply #2 on: December 13, 2012, 04:51:22 PM »
I don't think there's anything you can say.  Unless the teacher has a process to vet topics where they are submitted and honor first come-first served for topic subjects, there's no way to prove which one of you came up with the topic first.  And unless the teacher had a no-duplicating topics rule, I don't see why you couldn't have stayed with the topic and done your own presentation anyway.   Perhaps consult with the teacher and ask for suggestions.  "Both Classmate and I are both doing final projects on ABC topic.  Can you suggest additional factors that I could focus on in this area to make my project slightly different?"  Or better yet, tell classmate you have the same topic and ask her if you can both meet with the teacher to discuss to ensure you avoid duplication.

onyonryngs

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Re: When someone uses your idea.
« Reply #3 on: December 13, 2012, 04:53:40 PM »
How well she did on the project really has no bearing on the question.  Was there a reason you both couldn't have done the same project? 

CaptainObvious

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Re: When someone uses your idea.
« Reply #4 on: December 13, 2012, 04:57:48 PM »
I don't see the issue? Unless there was a rule that forbade 2 people from covering the same topic, why couldn't you both do it?


Moray

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Re: When someone uses your idea.
« Reply #5 on: December 13, 2012, 05:02:33 PM »
You made a choice not to continue with your own project; she didn't prevent you from completing it, so I don't think there's anything to be said. She did nothing wrong, and to my way of thinking, part of the reason to have small, in-depth seminars is so everyone can be exposed to others' ideas and thought processes.
Utah

LadyL

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Re: When someone uses your idea.
« Reply #6 on: December 13, 2012, 05:11:55 PM »
I don't see the issue? Unless there was a rule that forbade 2 people from covering the same topic, why couldn't you both do it?

Part of the proposal is innovating an idea that hasn't yet been done the way you're proposing it (filling a gap in the existing literature) so it makes it a bit awkward if you're following a presentation proposing the same thing as you. I guess creativity is sort of implicit in the criteria for the project.

To clarify, this situation worked out fine as far as I'm concerned but my question is more in case I run into this problem again and I *do* want to politely lay claim to my project.

onyonryngs

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Re: When someone uses your idea.
« Reply #7 on: December 13, 2012, 05:14:53 PM »
Why not just say, "Oh, that's the project I had planned on doing.  I've had some additional ideas about class." But if there's a sign up process to make sure no one is doing the same project, then I'm sure it'll be a first come, first served scenario, correct?  They're not going to assign a project and make it so that no one can do the same subject if the instructor doesn't have a way to police that, right?

Surianne

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Re: When someone uses your idea.
« Reply #8 on: December 13, 2012, 05:48:50 PM »
Ohhh, that's frustrating -- yeah, in this sort of academic situation, originality is important.  It's happened to me before and I froze up and had no idea how to handle it, and wound up changing my topic, pretty much exactly like you did. 

In hindsight, I really like TurtleDove's advice and wish I'd done this:

All of this made me wonder, at the point when she told me she was thinking about using that topic, what would have been a polite way to say "Oh, you mean like the idea I was talking about in class?" without it seeming like I was trying to lay claim in a "mine, not yours!" kind of way? And if I had actually been really invested in the topic, is there any way I could have told her that I was already thinking of using the idea without it being awkward? At the time I mostly couldn't come up with any sort of phrasing that didn't sound in my head like "You're coooppying meee!" (thanks social awkwardness).

I don't think you can point out it was your idea without it seeming like you are laying a claim to the idea.....and I don't think it's a bad thing to point out it was your idea.  I think the moment has passed for this particular situation, and it seems like it worked out well anyway.  Should something similar happen again, I would just be factual and non- accusatory and honest if you want to lay claim to what is your idea: "I am also doing my project on x and y aspects of A, B, C - don't you remember when I talked about that in class last Tuesday?"  And if it would make you feel less anxious, ask the professor how he would prefer you handle both of you doing the same project.

TootsNYC

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Re: When someone uses your idea.
« Reply #9 on: December 13, 2012, 07:38:13 PM »
I would just blurt out, "that was my idea!" And I don't think that's rude.

Nor is, "Oh, that's the idea I mentioned earlier in class--I had planned to do it."

If you didn't have the reaction in the moment, I'd say you could get ahold of her later and say, "The other day you mentioned you were considering that topic. I wanted to remind you that I'd cleared it with the professor in class several months ago and I've already begun working on it. I hope that doesn't mess you up."

And maybe the BIGGEST lesson here, especially in such a situation, is to ask those sorts of questions later.  I'd find it hard to do, but I think it's one of the things I'd take away.

Kiwichick

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Re: When someone uses your idea.
« Reply #10 on: December 13, 2012, 08:08:23 PM »
I'm just a bit surprised you presume that because you vocalised an idea you are the only one who has thought of it. 

In future all you can really do is keep your ideas to yourself until you have had a chance to document them.

LadyL

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Re: When someone uses your idea.
« Reply #11 on: December 13, 2012, 08:58:32 PM »
I'm just a bit surprised you presume that because you vocalised an idea you are the only one who has thought of it. 

In future all you can really do is keep your ideas to yourself until you have had a chance to document them.

It was a very specific idea and she presented it exactly the same, down to the way the stimuli would be presented and manipulated. Kind of like if in a cooking class you made cranberry raisin rum upside down cake as your final project and someone else also made cranberry raisin rum upside down cake - unlikely to happen by chance due to the specificity of it. Also since the course is not in her area of expertise I'm not sure where else she would have heard about such a specific method for researching that topic other than the class discussion. However I suppose anything is possible.

Sharing ideas is a big part of the class so it wouldn't be possible to keep all ideas to myself. The question is more, how do you maintain intellectual property rights (so to speak) in these types of situations. I am glad to hear that it's not rude to be direct about it.

CaptainObvious

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Re: When someone uses your idea.
« Reply #12 on: December 13, 2012, 09:08:58 PM »
I'm just a bit surprised you presume that because you vocalised an idea you are the only one who has thought of it. 

In future all you can really do is keep your ideas to yourself until you have had a chance to document them.

It was a very specific idea and she presented it exactly the same, down to the way the stimuli would be presented and manipulated. Kind of like if in a cooking class you made cranberry raisin rum upside down cake as your final project and someone else also made cranberry raisin rum upside down cake - unlikely to happen by chance due to the specificity of it. Also since the course is not in her area of expertise I'm not sure where else she would have heard about such a specific method for researching that topic other than the class discussion. However I suppose anything is possible.

Sharing ideas is a big part of the class so it wouldn't be possible to keep all ideas to myself. The question is more, how do you maintain intellectual property rights (so to speak) in these types of situations. I am glad to hear that it's not rude to be direct about it.

According to you she didn't do her presentation correctly, so even if you did the same topic, your presentations would have been vastly different.
I think the chances of this happening again are slim, so hopefully you won't need to confront someone.

Lynn2000

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Re: When someone uses your idea.
« Reply #13 on: December 13, 2012, 09:26:59 PM »
Sharing ideas is a big part of the class so it wouldn't be possible to keep all ideas to myself. The question is more, how do you maintain intellectual property rights (so to speak) in these types of situations. I am glad to hear that it's not rude to be direct about it.

I think this is an interesting question, but perhaps better one put to your instructor, just because s/he would have a better idea of your field's "culture" for that kind of thing, and instructions specifically for their class. It sounds like it would be very germane to this particular class, where people are supposed to share original ideas with the group, but then also research them in-depth individually--surely this wouldn't be the first time that someone has been inspired to proceed with an idea that was actually first mentioned by a classmate.

Speaking more generally... Do people think it would be rude to ask the classmate, "That sounds interesting. How did you come up with that idea?" It sounds like the girl genuinely didn't remember the OP had mentioned the idea first (as the OP speculated), or that any other specific classmate had, or she probably wouldn't have claimed it as her project so overtly (like, if she knew/felt she'd 'stolen' it from someone, she'd probably keep quiet to avoid the risk they'd make a fuss).

In a future situation, if the OP curiously asked how the person had come up with that idea, maybe they would say something like, "Oh, I just heard it in class the other day, and it sounded really cool," at which point perhaps the OP could say, "Well, actually, I'm the one who said it in class, and I was planning to use that idea myself." And see what the reaction was. I'm thinking the answer could also be, "Well, I was searching through XYZ literature, and I noticed that everyone was just assuming the ABC standard was correct, but I couldn't find any studies validating that," then the OP would realize the classmate had put a lot of original thought into the idea. And maybe the OP would feel differently about abandoning that topic and finding another, or whatever she chose to do.
~Lynn2000

Zilla

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Re: When someone uses your idea.
« Reply #14 on: December 14, 2012, 07:31:17 AM »
I agree with others, don't discuss project ideas in class.  Save them for emails or office hours.  Or you can ask the professor that if a person brings up a concept/project idea in class does it belong to that person who brought it up?