ABC, Fremantle Sued Over Million Dollar Idea

Seeking tens of millions of dollars, the creators of syndicated TV series Million Dollar Idea, which began on KSTC Minneapolis, have filed suit against ABC, Fremantlemedia and producer Simon Cowell (host of American Idol) over their planned network reality show, The Million Dollar Idea (a working title).

The ABC show was announced last month. Over the course of the series, B&C reported, it will search the country for the greatest entrepreneur with the best business idea or new product, culminating with $1 million in business support, including cash, entrepreneurial counsel and physical resources to the winner.

The Minneapolis version also features a competition for the next great invention, with the winner getting marketing and other support.

B&C reported on the local syndicated version of Million Dollar Idea in July 2004, when co-creator Jean Golden said she was pitching it to cable networks and others. The show is syndicated to 125 stations, according to Golden.

The suit, filed in federal court in L.A. Wednesday, charges ABC et. al. with ripping off the premise of the show. The allegations include trademark and copyright infringement and breach of implied contract.

Golden and partner Todd Walker said the suit was in direct response to the ABC announcement July 13 of the new show "created" by Cowell and "packaged" by CAA.
The breach of contract allegation stems from Walker's claim to have pitched their Million Dollar Idea to ABC alternative programming executive Andrea Wong in 2004.

"We have not even been served with the complaint in this matter," said ABC spokeswoman Julie Hoover, "and so have no comment."

A Fremantle spokeswoman said the company does not comment on pending litigation.It is not the first time Fremantle has been the subject of a suit over a reality concept.
In 2003, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's dismissal of a suit against Fremantle and Fox station KRIV Houston for allegedly copying the concept for American Idol.

The original suit was filed in May 2003, when Irvin, Texas, concert promoter Harry T. Keane charged that he had come up with the concept (and even the name) for American Idol in 1994 and had pitched it to Fox and eventual American Idol producer Fremantle, among others.

The district court dismissed the case in April 2004; Keane appealed; oral argument in the Fifth Circuit was March 7, with a decision in that court March 17.

The U.S. appeals court upheld the district court's dismissal for similar reasons—which might be christened the "tough luck" grounds, since they hinged on his failure to have taken steps to stake a legal claim to it before pitching it.

The courts found that his rights in an unregistered concept—he was claiming an implied contract - were unsupportable.

In essence, because he did not make his pitch exclusively to Fremantle or expressly contingent on payment, no contract was breached by Fremantle and Fox's eventual use of a similar concept.

Keane's claim of trademark infringement for use of the American Idol named was equally unsupportable, the three-judge panel of the court found. Given that Keane had no commercial activity associated with his concept "sufficient to appropriate such rights."

That point is one key difference between that case and the current Million Dollar Idea suit, since there is clear commercial activity associated with the Minneapolis show.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.