I am not a patent lawyer, but there are very few new ideas born from us. Steven Johnson and others taught us that the solo genius holed up creating her work doesn’t exist.
Nothing, really, happens in a vacuum. We learn from each other, whether we admit it or not. We borrow and steal, and great ideas are generally committee work. Even though committees can suck.
If there are no new ideas, then difference seems to be in the details. The one problem with this thinking is that it could let off the hook those who pilfer other people’s ideas and beat them to market. It certainly has happened before. I am not a historian, but the history of intellectual change shows when two similar ideas compete for hearts and minds, the claim of genius often goes to the better marketer.
This may be the case in this complicated and fascinating New York Times piece on the legal issues surrounding the origin of a famous line of crocheted bikinis called Kiini, which markets themselves as resort ware and sells for more than $150.
One one side we have Ipek Irgit, originally from Turkey who came to the US at a young age, who, after a trip to Brazil around 2010, stumbled upon an idea to market a new line of bikinis.
The problem is, as the story points out, is the design mostly came from someone else: Solange Ferrarini from Brazil, an artisan, selling her crocheted bikinis on the beaches. Irgit created her company of swimwear that looks very similar to Ferrarini’s bikinis. When Kiini’s began to fly off the shelves, Irgit starting fending off powerful competitors through legal means. She beat Victoria Secrets who were making similar suits.
Her misstep, according to the piece, was attempting to sue the company who paid Ferrarini for her designs. The case is still going through the motions, but the piece isn’t flattering to Ms. Irgit or Kiini.
Even in the world of $150 bikinis, nothing really happens in a vacuum. And no one is a lone genius. Especially when you have to sue your way to prove it.