Imagine the case that you do an unpaid internship for a company and in one of your meetings you give them an idea for a future working direction. Later you leave company and continue you professional life somewhere else. After some time you read about the company in the news and see that they have employed your idea and became really successful. Should you ethically have any right on the idea you gave away even though you didn't know it would make the company successful at the beginning?

(using utilitarian ethics)

  • 3
    I'm not particularly familiar with the right to be upset or how it works, but I don't see any reason to restrict it. If your question is, does the company have obligations for an idea given freely? then that's an interesting question perhaps.
    – virmaior
    Aug 20 '17 at 3:35
  • 1
    Legal rights? If so, then this is probably the wrong SE to post this question and my knowledge is too limited. I do believe that there are legitimate situations in human interactions where no law exists and probably no law should exist but you still have every right to be upset. An easier example is infidelity in a relationship. You have every right to be upset in that situation but there is no (and I would argue should be) no legal consequences to cheating on your boyfriend or girlfriend. I guess in your example it could be asked if it would be rational to feel upset.
    – MM8
    Aug 20 '17 at 6:27
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    Do you also have a specific ethical system in mind? Regardless, I believe most ethical systems would consider this situation to either be unethical on the part of the company (depending on how unique and specific versus broad and general the idea was) or consider it an ethically neutral situation (this is what I'm leaning towards here).
    – MM8
    Aug 20 '17 at 6:37
  • 1
    If you came up with a great formula for a beverage and they later use it (ignoring legal aspects) then I think it makes sense to say you have a certain right to your creation (the extent of which is debatable) but if your idea was more something like "we should hire more people in that section of the company and focus more on our overseas market" then I think by telling them your idea, you also gave them your idea. May not be a satisfying answer but without a specific ethics system that's the best I can come up with.
    – MM8
    Aug 20 '17 at 6:37
  • 1
    @Leon Thank you for the information on 3M. Yes, I agree with your legal analysis. As I mentioned in my 3 M post, 3M was not required to reward the employee. To prevent any misunderstanding, I have deleted my post regarding 3M.
    – Gordon
    Aug 24 '17 at 12:06

As American patent law sees it, you still have the right to use your idea independent of them. It is 'prior art' and they cannot monopolize it. But you have no right to any part of their success. They are the ones who have made the investment in your idea.

You already had the opportunity to take your idea to someone else who would make that investment in a way that would benefit you, instead of them. If you did not recognize the value of your own idea, they deserve the benefit of that realization, which you did not have.

'Capitalism' is the name for a market economy, but the primary thing markets acknowledge is not the holding of capital. Money is no longer based on actual property, it is now an entirely market phenomenon, based on the recycling of debt. So modern markets run on the successful estimation of value and a proper sense of the associated risk.

You did not properly estimate the value, or take the related risk.


You are asking this question, basically, because you feel that you have ethical rights on your idea. So, while you are asking this question, you are answering it as well. Does it make you feel proud that your idea became successful? If yes, this is an additional indicator that part of the success, belongs to you.

From a business point of view, the idea is nothing compared to the implementation of the idea. From a legal point of view, you have absolutely no rights on the idea. Actually, the copyrights do not cover "ideas". Don't forget that you were working for intership, because you were willing to give value to the company and get back experience.


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