Your idea, is it? Last week I posted Get It In Writing about the Facebook idea ownership. Today in Who Founded Facebook? A New Claim Emerges the New York Times reports a new claim from Aaron Greenspan, who was a Harvard student at the time. Here’s the new originator of the Facebook idea:

An e-mail message, circulated widely by Mr. Greenspan to Harvard students on Sept. 19, 2003, describes the newest feature of houseSYSTEM, as “the Face Book,â€? an online system for quickly locating other students. The date was four months before Mr. Zuckerberg started his own site, originally “â€? (Mr. Greenspan retained his college e-mail messages and provided The New York Times with copies of his communications with Mr. Zuckerberg.)

The point of this, as I was suggesting last week, isn’t who actually did come up with the idea. It’s that originating an idea means nothing much unless you build a business around it. The Facebook fest is a great illustration of that undeniable principle.

Despite Mr. Greenspan’s entrepreneurial ambitions, Mr. Zuckerberg was the first to move to Silicon Valley, raising venture capital and eventually transforming Facebook from a social networking site for college students into one of the fastest growing Internet sites for both social and business contacts.

Indeed, Mr. Greenspan, who is now 24 and moved to Silicon Valley last year to start a company, appears to be a clear example of a truism in this high-technology region: establishing who is first with an idea is often a murky endeavor at best, and frequently it is not the inventor of an idea who is the ultimate winner.

Interestingly: Greenspan’s evidence argues against Zuckerberg’s having thought up the original idea, but probably strengthens his case against the two brothers who say he stole it from them (I’m not an attorney, so this isn’t a legal opinion, just my interpretation of what I’ve heard off and on for years). I assume it strengthens his ownership of the $10-billion company called Facebook.

So it seems that Mark Zuckerberg is the owner of a (more of less) $10 billion company not because he thought up Facebook (which, apparently, he didn’t) but because he took a good idea and built a company on it. See? You don’t really own an idea. This is one of the best examples I’ve seen in a long time.

Get it in writing.


Tim BerryTim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.