February 20, 2003:  Alleged date of first use for MILLION DOLLAR IDEA in relation to product and invention evaluation services, and entertainment services (‘low-power’ TV show), by Roaring Entertainment.

March 2004: Roaring pitches Andrea Wong, head of reality programming at ABC.

July 2005: ABC announces ‘Million Dollar Idea’, to be produced by Simon Cowell and Peter Jones, with quote from Andrea Wong:

“Simon and Peter have conceived a fantastic show,” said Andrea Wong, executive vice president, Alternative Programming, Specials and Late-Night, ABC Entertainment. “Somebody out there has thought of the next Post-it Note or Starbucks, but they don’t have the means to actually make it happen. It’s going to be thrilling to find that person and make his or her dream a reality.”

August 2005: Coverage of lawsuit by Roaring Entertainment against producers of show.

If someone wrote a work of fiction where a TV network allegedly steals the idea for an idea submission show, the critics would say that the satire was heavy-handed.

Interesting looking outline re protection of ideas here.

Some of the accounts of this story indicate that ABC was proffered a confidentiality agreement but that it wasn’t signed.  You can’t evaluate the full impact of this fact without knowing the context.  Also, it would appear to have no bearing on the trademark issue.

Advising entrepreneurs on idea submission is tricky business.  For the purposes of a superficial blog post I might boil it down to:

1.  If all you have is an idea, and nothing patentable, copyrightable, trademarkable or rising to trade secret, then maybe you should remain at the drawing board a while longer;

2.  Do not be afraid to request a written non-disclosure/non-compete agreement prior to idea submission.  It is NOT analogous to asking for a pre-nup on a first date.  It does not send the message that you think the ‘receiving party’ is a crook – it sends the message that you are a careful person.  And if it does kill the deal, then, to quote Sly Stone, Que sera, sera.