- Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak has been sued over the theft of a business idea from a professor.
- Ralph Reilly approached Wozniak about making a branded tech school in 2010 but it didn’t pan out.
- Wozniak later made one without Reilly, and said “I doubt it would have happened” without his idea.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
In early 2011, at a luncheon at Sacramento’s Hyatt Regency hotel, Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak clasped hands with a Connecticut business professor named Ralph Reilly.
According to Reilly, the pair had agreed to establish a futuristic “tech university,” sealing the deal with an on-camera handshake. It was an ambitious plan for a 21-century educational platform to teach adults much-needed technical skills, using Wozniak’s name and legendary status as cofounder of the world’s most iconic computing company to brand the institution.
But Wozniak has a different recollection. The veteran engineer often known as “Woz” has said the meeting was one of dozens of photo-ops he conducts on a near-daily basis with his fans and admirers — so mundane he doesn’t even remember the photograph being taken.
Despite further emails and meetings, the partnership never got off the ground — and has erupted into a million-dollar lawsuit, Insider has learned. Reilly alleges that Wozniak stole his intellectual property and infringed on his copyright by launching a Woz-branded tech school without him, while Wozniak’s team counters that he never had a real deal with Reilly and that he’s inundated with business proposals from admirers.
The yearslong legal proceedings offer a rare window into the life of Apple’s second-most-famous founder, as well as how tech celebs can cash in on their reputations with lucrative deals and partnerships for decades — and how it can all go wrong.
Such lawsuits are common in the chaotic world of startups, as entrepreneurs and business partners litigate over ownership and execution. And Wozniak’s celebrity status, friendly manner, and hands-off approach to business appears to blur the line…