In some respects, Best Buy's theft of trade secrets from startup TechForward is a fairly routine matter. Small company pitches idea to large company. Large company signs an NDA. But large company likes the idea so much that it basically makes the idea (and the methodology behind it) its own.
The context around the resulting litigation, however, described in a blog post by a venture capitalist whose firm funded TechForward, is fascinating. For me, it's also uplifting. "Send your business plans to these guys" inspiring, in fact. And not merely because TechForward won the lawsuit.
First and foremost, the venture firm, First Round Capital, really understands the importance of the little guy in the technology world. In deciding to fund a lawsuit against Best Buy, where many would have just moved on, First Round was speaking with actions, not just words, about sticking up for the entrepreneur. First Round partner Josh Kopelman wrote, "If big companies believe they can violate agreements with immunity because a startup can't afford to sue them, it is bad news for every startup in the ecosystem."
There are a couple other great learnings from this story. NDAs, those throwaway documents so many business people sign without reading or don't bother to sign at all, can really become a critical agreement that governs the course of a relationship - always make sure you get them reviewed by counsel and signed. Finally, the litigators that some business people like to point to as "the problem" were, in this case, the solution - while the Best Buy business people were crass and manipulative, the TechForward lawyers saw that justice was done.
Congratulations to the teams at TechForward and First Round Capital. And thank you, from all of us who work with emerging technology companies.