Thursday, January 23, 2014

Intellectual Property: Florida’s Statute Of Frauds For Ideas

By Woodrow Pollack

Florida Statute § 501.972 is interesting and, to my knowledge, has never before been cited by any court.  That has now changed, with BP being awarded summary judgment in defense to an engineer’s claim that BP used his idea without permission. See Kaminski v. BP Exploration & Production, Inc., Case No. 8:12-cv-826 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 24, 2013) (J. Bucklew).

Joseph Kaminski, an engineer who worked for Honeywell building technology for NASA, wanted to help BP after the Deepwater explosion.  BP set up a system for receiving proposed solutions for stopping the oil leak, and Kaminski submitted a couple of his ideas.  Included in one of his submissions was the following:

"Please take this under advisement.  …  This will work and it is far easier than the 100 ton top hat.  …  When My son and I become paid hero's [sic] for the idea and helping you from here in tampabay [sic] florida.  I will say it was BP's willingness to work and find the right solution from anyone anywhere for this very unique problem.  You will also pay me and my son at least 2 million for the idea and my personal help to guarantee [sic] its succes [sic]."

Kaminski believes BP used at least two of his ideas, so he sued for breach of an implied contract as well as unjust enrichment.  BP sought refuge under Florida’s idea protection statute, which reads as follows:

501. 972   Actions based upon use of a creation that is not protected under federal copyright law.

(1) Except as provided in subsection (2), the use of an idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, discovery, thought, or other creation that is not a work of authorship protected under federal copyright law does not give rise to a claim or cause of action, in law or in equity, unless the parties to the claim or cause of action have executed a writing sufficient to indicate that a contract has been made between them governing such use.

(2) Subsection (1) does not affect or limit:
     (a) Any cause of action based in copyright, trademark, patent, or trade secret; or
     (b) Any defense raised in connection with a cause of action described in paragraph (2).

Thus, Florida has a statute of frauds for uses of ideas.  

The court was convinced by BP’s argument that this statute shielded BP from liability.  Recognizing that copyright does not protect ideas but expressions of ideas, the court found Kaminski’s submissions to be ideas governed by this law:

Here, Plaintiff’s ideas are not works of authorship and are expressly excluded from protection under the Copyright Act; Section 501.972 therefore applies to BP’s use of Plaintiff’s idea.

Because there was no writing between the parties executed by BP, Kaminski’s claim failed.  Florida’s sleeping statute of frauds for ideas has awoken.  Time will tell who else seeks shelter under this requirement for sharing your ideas in Florida.