Idiot Savant

It’s been almost two years since the story below shook up my organization yet it’s still quite fresh in my memory. This story stands out as rude reminder of how complex IP protection is and how many traps you need to consider. Even though the story is a bit old I still changed the names of the participants to protect the innocent…

Ravindra Gupta a senior java architect from a well respected local high-end consulting firm ThinkBig impressed us the first time we met him. He seemed to be exactly the person we’d been looking for a long time. With little hesitation we assigned him a challenging task in a user management and administration (UMA) space. He flew in our SF location and spent a couple weeks going through the analysis of the issue, discussions with our staff and me.

I consider UMA tasks some of the most challenging and was happy to have a very impressive guy deal with them. We spent days educating Ravi on functional aspects of the UMA, its issues, technical challenges, and numerous tricks and traps. I was very impressed with Ravi grasp and progress with it. After a few weeks in the office Ravi took off to work from home at the East Cost.

The year end frenzy took my mind of UMA and Ravi’s work. Ravi’s brief status reports and scant communications did not bother me much especially considering that he was apparently making good progress and we were expecting detailed technical review session right after the holidays. Unfortunately though the meeting never not took place, instead one of the first emails of ’07 was one from Ravi:

From: Ravindra S. Gupta []
Sent: Saturday, January 06, 2007 1:33 PM
To: Nick Krym
Subject: U.M. Design Copyright

Hello Nick,

In the chaos of the holidays, I was fortunate to find some time to myself. This yielded an insight: I have to stop selling my copyright for the price of a copy. “R.S.G. Consulting” was therefore founded (finally) on 1/1/2007.

Consequently, the existing contract (made with ThinkBig) is no longer acceptable, and I want to proceed forward under the following general agreement:

I own the copyright to all parts and whole of the generic Access Control System (RACS) that I am creating. Medem does not pay for the development of RACS, but may buy a very favorably priced license. However, it is under no obligation to do so.

To demonstrate suitability-of-use, I will configure the RACS to support up to five (5) use-cases chosen by Medem, at no cost to Medem.

Should Medem then buy a license (still no obligation), it may buy my professional services to fully or partially configure the RACS for use with the new Medem system. All work done towards this task will belong to Medem (i.e. will bear Medem’s copyright), with exception of any modifications made to the RACS (which will bear my copyright). However, Medem may instead choose to have its own developers or other consultants configure the RACS.

The attached document describes the Pricing model, Availability, etc.

The design that’s taking shape is beautiful in its simplicity and power of expression. It will more than accommodate Medem’s needs for years to come.

Please feel free to contact me at any time.


R.S.G. Consulting

I red the email and picked up phone calling Mike, CEO of ThinkBig.

A month later, after the dust settled, legal bills were paid and separation agreement signed Mike and I were seeping coffee at our favorite spot at Montgomery and Bush. Mike was going in rounds about the fact that someone he’d been working for over ten years would do anything like that. In my mind there was just one answer, an expression that I had recently learned: “Idiot Savant”

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