Imagine that during your weekly therapy session you tell your therapist about a new dating app that you have in the works. From your personal experience, you decided that dating in New York City is not easy, and while there are a handful of dating apps already in existence, they are not without their flaws. So, you come up with an idea for a new app of your own, an “online dating in reverse,” if you will.
It works a little something like this: Say you meet someone, whether it be on the street, in line at a coffee shop, in a meeting, etc. “You see what they really look or act like … you ascertain intangible, ethereal qualities” that you would not necessarily be able to gauge from a dating app, and decide you might like this person.
This is where the app comes in. You give your potential new love interest your business card, but it is not just any business card – it contains a code that he/she “can enter onto a website to unlock an extensive and entertaining profile of” you. And then he/she can choose to connect with you after that.
You had already detailed your idea for the app on paper before a notary a few months prior and retained the services of a patent attorney, who conducted a patentability search to see if your idea was, in fact, novel and, as such, could be patented. The search confirmed that your idea really is a novel one ripe for patent protection.
Due to some personal issues, however, you have to put the development of the app on hold and end up in Joanne Richards’ office. Amidst discussing your inability to commit or your unhappiness with your job or your unendingly difficult relationship with your mother, you tell her about this incredible new app you have dreamt up.
Despite asking Richards not to tell anyone about your genius new idea, she does. She tells her friend, Lori Cheek, a budding entrepreneur, who launches CHEEKD, what will become a "successful app" based entirely on your idea. Cheek goes on to appear on an episode of “Shark Tank,” a popular television show where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to venture capitalists to obtain funding, and is even featured on Oprah for “her unique idea” for the novel app.
A True Story
Far from merely a fictional account, this is what New York-based Alfred Pirri claims happened to him. According to Pirri – who filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit in federal court in New York last month, against Lori Cheek and Cheek’d, Inc., among others, for fraud, trade secret misappropriation, unjust enrichment, and conversion – “Lori Cheek presents herself to the public as a successful entrepreneur, who seemingly conceived a novel idea in 2008 and then patented that idea and proceeded to create a successful dating website, app and business called ‘CHEEKD.’”
However, as Pirri goes on to argue in his complaint, “Unfortunately for Cheek, the image that she presented to the public hid an inconvenient truth. The idea upon which she based her entire business and celebrity was not hers.” It was his.
Central to Cheek’s alleged theft of Pirri’s idea? Joanne Richards, Pirri’s therapist. As Pirri alleges, Richards informed him that she had told a friend about his idea for an app, but she “lulled [him] into this false sense of security” by assuring him that that there was “nothing to worry about” because Cheek was “not going to do anything with the idea” and that she was “not going to pursue it.”
With that in mind, Pirri continued his sessions with Richards and on occasion, discussed the app, including his desire to begin working on it again, to which Richards allegedly told him, “I wouldn’t do that. It’s just going to be very stressful for you. Just forget about that idea.”
This recommendation, according to Pirri, “while represented as professional advice, was a pretext meant to assist [Cheek] in completing her theft of [his] idea and to prevent [him] from discovering the theft,” as Pirri claims that “Richards knew that Cheek was taking steps to apply for a patent for [Pirri’s] idea and to claim it as her own to the exclusion of [Pirri’s] rights, and Richards knew that Cheek was also taking steps to build a business on [Pirri’s] idea.”
Not long thereafter, Pirri claims that he learned that Cheek was, in fact, pursuing the idea and had filed a patent application for the app.
In addition to suing Cheek, Pirri names Richards in his suit, alleging that she “breached her [fiduciary] duty, which included a duty to not disclose to third parties any communications she learned from [Pirri] during her treatment of [him] and a duty to disclose any breaches of that duty to [him].” As Pirri states in his complaint, “Cheek’s success was a direct consequence of Richards’ breach of her duty to maintain confidentiality of his communications with her.”
As a result of the foregoing, Pirri has asked the court to invalidate Cheek’s patent for the app, and to order the defendants to immediately and permanently discontinue use of the CHEEKD website and app, as it is still up and running. Pirri has also asked the court to “disgorge all of the defendants’ profits resulting from their use of his idea and to “pay compensatory and punitive damages in an amount no less than $1,000,000.”
UPDATED (OCTOBER 4, 2017): In response the Pirri's lawsuit, Lori Cheek told TFL, "The allegations contained in Mr. Pirri's complaint are completely untrue and defamatory and I am assured they will be dealt with quickly and effectively in court. Neither I nor either of my co-inventors had ever heard of, much less knew Mr. Pirri's therapist, Joanne Richards, and Ms. Richards confirms that she had never heard of any of us, prior to this lawsuit."
Cheek continued on to state: "Neither I nor my co-inventors would ever do - and never did - the things that are alleged by Mr. Pirri. We are a highly regarded, ethical company. We will hopefully update you with the outcome of this matter, which we hope will come soon, which will completely exonerate me, my co-inventors, and Cheekd, Inc."
* The case is Alfred Pirri, Jr., v. Lori Cheek, Joanne Richards, Locke Raper, Charles Kickham & Cheek’d, Inc., 1-17-cv-07089-1 (SDNY).