When Lawyers Send Letters

Stanford Grad Sues Snapchat Cofounders Claiming They Stole His ‘Million Dollar Idea’

Did Picaboo become Snapchat through BETRAYAL?
(Photo: Lawsuit)

(Photo: Lawsuit)

Litigation is the newest symbol that your startup has made it, as we’re sure Mark Zuckerberg can attest. Now that Snapchat, the “sexting” app that allows users to send photos that disappear after 10 seconds, is all grown up with a fresh $13.5  million raise, it has its very own lawsuit. Betabeat has obtained a copy (embedded below), and it’s pretty juicy.

South Carolina-based Frank Reginald Brown IV attended Stanford with Snapchat cofounders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy. The lawsuit claims that Mr. Brown came up with the idea for Snapchat, then approached Mr. Spiegel, who lived in the same dorm, about creating the app. Mr. Spiegel allegedly informed Mr. Brown that he had a “million dollar idea” on his hands, and the duo entered a verbal agreement to work on it together. They began looking for a coder, and came upon Mr. Murphy, a friend of Mr. Spiegel’s. Mr. Brown became CMO, Mr. Murphy CTO and Mr. Spiegel CEO.

The trio began working on Snapchat, which the lawsuit says Mr. Brown named “Picaboo.” The app actually received some press while it was called Picaboo, and Mr. Brown worked to build a social media presence for it while he served as CMO.

The lawsuit also contends that Mr. Brown designed the ghost logo, which Snapchat still uses, and helped with the UI. During the summer of 2011, they worked from Mr. Spiegel’s father’s home in Los Angeles.

A photo published with the lawsuit shows the trio smiling in front of a cake with the Snapchat ghost logo on it, which was allegedly taken while they were celebrating Mr. Murphy’s birthday and the original launch of Picaboo in the iTunes store in 2011.

Then: the betrayal.

The suit alleges that in mid-August 2011, following a heated conversation about the future of Picaboo, Mr. Spiegel and Mr. Murphy began to lock Mr. Brown out of access to the application, changing the passwords for various Picaboo accounts and refusing to return his calls. They froze him out of the business, and shortly thereafter changed the name of the application to Snapchat.

Snapchat provided TechCrunch with the following statement:

We are aware of the allegations, believe them to be utterly devoid of merit, and will vigorously defend ourselves against this frivolous suit. It would be inappropriate to comment further on this pending legal matter.

While the arguments made in the lawsuit are pretty convincing, it’s hard to know who here is telling the truth–and if Mr. Brown is entitled to any sort of damages even if he is.

Sorry dude. Sounds like you may have been Winklevii’d.

Frank Reginald Brown vs. Snapchat by

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