What to do when a co-worker rips off your ideas

Hi all,

I am three months out of school, and doing a short internship in China with a friend. We just finished a project where a co-worker has blatantly ripped off my friends idea for a concept, and we were wondering how to handle it. It is extremely obvious, and the strangest thing is that we are working on the same project, so there is no way we would not have noticed.

Does this sort of thing normally happen to young employees? I feel like I would know how to handle it if this were to happen back home, but are there different expectations in China?

Any advice would help. Thanks a lot.

happens all the time and it might not be a “ripp off”…concepts, ideas, are like assholes…everybody has them and most stink.

Thanks for the zippy response, but as I said, it was extremely blatant, and we were looking for advice not bad ripped off jokes.

Ah yes the sage advice of Zippy, many are thrown by the smart ass demeanor, but in effect, its probably what you need to hear.

First of all, it sounds like “welcome to China” the land of ripping off.

And second, this sounds less like an intellectual property problem and more of a problem with learning about how to conduct yourself in an office setting. There will always be those co workers, especially on interdiciplary teams that will take credit for your work. You need to read up on professionalism to learn how to counteract the credit taker. One way is to just do good work all the time, dude probably did take a good idea from you and is probably getting credit, but any asshole can have an idea, you know the method for repeatedly generating good ideas. Right? so do it. You may just have to let this one go. If you go to your boss and try to take credit it can look like you aren’t part of the team.

many words same advice, but then again he listend to you…so the words were well spent.

son, get used to it, learn about IP law, learn that for the most part there is very little new under the sun, and learn that your brilliant idea likey was noodled out by somebody else at some other time. So it comes down to this, did he ripp you off? He might have noodled that very thing years ago and sketched it into his notebook, hell I might have too.

If you are working on the same project for the same company, who really cares? My only real problem would be that if you are both independently working out the same design at the same time, then it you are wasting resources. As far as the idea goes, often times some cross-pollination helps take the design further than it may have went without alternative perspectives. I would also take into account that in China IP is still a concept that seems yet to fully take hold.

Cool thanks. We never wanted to sue this guy over IP, we were just wondering how we should go about bringing it up to him, and who should get credit (within the company) for the idea, as the nature of it will bring respect and credibility.

The reason I know he stole the idea was because my friend presented it to him during a brainstorming/ideation meeting where they had already developed it quite a bit. Then, we had to explain what it was, because he had never heard of this product before.

I do realize that ideas are shared openly within offices, and it was an ideation meeting where we are all working together, but this was a direct rip off. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be asking for advice.

if it was a product of a open brainstorming session then its impossiable to say who “owns” it.

The sketches were brought into the brainstorm to discuss.

what do you want to hear, yeah dude ripped you off, go running to the boss? The idea of the industrial designer is to develop concepts for the mutual benefit of the manufacturer and the consumer, not for the personal gain of the designer.

Thanks for the advice, as it is helpful.

Maybe quit and then let him fail at doing it without you and then come back and take his job?

I just put my name on every sketch in big lettering wth the date.

Maybe showthe best ideas last or at teh last minute or keep it to yourself and present it just before the end of the session so that is the last thing shown an last thing they remember.

There’s always going to be copycats. That’s why I work for myself and take all the credit.

geez, sounds like a bunch of defeatists here. “someone already sketched it sometime”, “you presented in a meeting, blah blah”. I think you guys are missing the point of the question, its more behavioral than someone whining about a similar sketch: a coworker is developing a bad habit, and this affects the visibility/accountability for good design to the ‘victim’.

if i was in that situation, id be pissed off: many promotions, special projects and bonuses depend on your performance. if some dude kept taking the ideas i present to him and show them as his, this does affect me, and my future. so i would be looking for a way to stop this behavior as well.

my advice. If this is the first time, let it go. its an internship anyways, it would be different if you worked there full time. BUT, if he does it again, I would talk to him privately and you can use a passive tone, like "i feel there is no visibility in my work… blah blah’. Dont whine about credit as it may come off as egotistical. word it differently. and always be calm and professional.

Sign and date your work, if you think it’s that good then put it in your portfolio. Being an internship I dunno that I would get too hung up on it. If the guy who stole the idea is a full time employee he may feel he directed you to the idea and hence he get’s ownership, or he just doesn’t care about you based solely on you being an intern.

I think D has some good advice here. I had a similar situation once. I showed my work to an n older “senior” designer, he said it sucked, then did his version of my sketch and showed the boss… who loved it. A few weeks went by and during a down time I talked to my boss offline and asked him how I should handle it. Turns out he knew exactly what happened, because the concept was so different than anything the other designer had done, and he saw my original sketch laying around.

I guess what I’m trying to say that if this guy sucks and rips other people to compensate, the boss probably knows, and if you are great and are constantly contributing ideas and sketching hot stuff, the boss probably knows.

My advice, print your sketch off large scale and hang it up on the wall. Let the other dude sweat it.

Congrats on doing an internship in China. That is exciting!

Thanks for the last few posts. They contained some good advice. I have heard the story of showing your work to a senior designer, who dismisses it and then shows the boss, but I never thought that it would be done so blatantly as is happened to you Yo. Does the person stealing the work really think that nobody will notice?

I was mainly looking for advice on how to bring it up in the office, or if it was even worth the trouble, but we ended up talking about it, and it isn’t seen as a big deal here. As was mentioned, as long as it helps the company it is seen as good work. On that note however, I agree with d-flux in how doing good work gets you promotions, bonuses and better projects.

Thanks for the good advice, and I loved the simplicity of printing it out large format, and pinning it up. Problem solved.


a post like this is likely going to get everyone jumping on your side. But to me it misses a lot of details.

  1. Was it a team development project?

  2. Was this co-worker your design lead or your supervisor?

  3. Who was it presented to? Senior designer? Client? Manager? CEO?

The reality ideas are plenty, everyone has them. Try not to get too attached to them because an idea is about 10% or the work required to get it done.

Within a corporate environment, or even a large team, no one really owns an idea. You worked on it, and that is about as far as you can get. So much so if it wins an award the people responsible will be “(insert name) Design Team”.

The important thing though, is remember, that you are an intern and you are there to learn. Treat this as a learning experience. Because when you reach a senior level, and very confident of yourself, you will find it really does not matter who owns the idea.