The founders of Snapchat, the popular self-destruct messaging app, have been hit with a lawsuit from a former classmate that claims they stole his idea.
Frank Reginald Brown IV, a 23-year old South Carolina native, alleges in the lawsuit that he came up with the idea for an app that would "automatically delete" messages in the spring of 2011 while a junior at Stanford. Brown says he then shared the idea with his friend and dorm mate Evan Spiegel - one of Snapchat's two co-founders - suggesting they work together on turning the idea into a company.
"Brown stated to Spiegel something to the effect of: 'we should make an application that sends deleting picture messages'," according to the lawsuit, first obtained by BetaBeat.
"Spiegel acknowledged the commercial viability of Brown's idea, repeatedly exclaiming that Brown had indeed conceived of a 'million-dollar idea'."
The two allegedly agreed to work together and "shook hands" on the deal. The pair then started interviewing potential coders for the project and eventually picked Bobby Murphy - Snapchat's other co-founder - who was a friend of Spiegel's. The lawsuit claims the three students then entered into an "explicit oral agreement" to form a joint venture in which each would have "one-third ownership and profit interests".
According to this arrangement, Brown was supposed to serve as the company's chief marketing officer, while Spiegel would be chief executive and Murphy would serve as chief technology officer.
During this time period, Brown claims to have come up with the original name for the app (Picaboo) as well as the ghost logo that Snapchat still uses, as well as the company's original Facebook and Twitter pages. He also claims to have drafted a patent application for the technology used in the app.
The three lived and worked on the app together during the summer of 2011 and allegedly even celebrated the "birth of Picaboo" at a Los Angeles restaurant. If you look at the cake in the picture, you'll notice the now famous Snapchat ghost logo.
At the end of that summer, however, the partnership is said to have taken a turn for the worse. While Brown was in South Carolina visiting his family, he and the two co-founders are said to have had a "contentious telephone conversation regarding their start-up", which ended with Spiegel hanging up the phone.
"In the next few days, the Individual Defendants wrongfully and physically shut Brown out of the joint venture/partnership by, for example, changing the passwords for its computer servers and accounts to prevent Brown from doing any further work on the Application," the lawsuit says. "The Individual Defendants then cut off all communication with Brown and refused to respond to his requests to discuss the matter with them."
The founders eventually changed the name of Picaboo to Snapchat and the app has since become a sensation, rising to the top of the App Store and inspiring a knock-off app from Facebook. Earlier this year, the start-up raised US$13.5 million in funding. Brown is now looking to have his "rights and interests restored" - meaning he is looking to get back his one-third ownership of the company.
The case itself is somewhat reminiscent of the dispute between Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the Winklevoss twins, who claimed Zuckerberg deliberately ran off with their idea for a social network.
Snapchat denied the lawsuit's charges in a statement provided to TechCrunch. "We are aware of the allegations, believe them to be utterly devoid of merit, and will vigorously defend ourselves against this frivolous suit," the company said. The company did not immediately respond to request for further comment.
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