Jie Qi went to Google in the hopes of collaborating with them on her projects on electronic books. What began as a chance for collaboration quickly turned to a job interview, with Qi receiving a job offer on the spot.
Two years later, she learned that Google filed a patent for work in this same area--without acknowledging the work that she and others had done in this field.
Now, in order to be granted a patent, you have to show that this is your idea and it hasn't been done by others. But because Qi had interviewed with the very same people who applied for the patent, it was clear they knew others were doing similar work.
Now, I'm not a patent attorney and I don't know the ins and outs of what you can get patented and what you cannot, but I do know the ins and outs of interviewing.
Companies often ask people to do sample work or give a presentation. Sometimes this is based on throw away data or for something that will never be used. As long as it doesn't require the candidate more than a couple hours of work, it's a good idea. After all, you want to make sure the person can actually do what she says she can do,
But some companies ask people to do work that they will actually use. This is unscrupulous behavior. You should never, ever use ideas gained in an interview without compensating the person who did it. You don't ask someone to analyze data and then use that analysis.
If looking at someone's past work isn't enough, the task for an interview needs to be something that will never, ever be used. And certainly, don't try to file a patent based on someone else's work.
Ultimately, Google's patent application was rejected, but it probably wouldn't have been if Qi hadn't learned about the application and had the backing of MIT.
This type of thing doesn't have to be deliberate--you can hear an idea in any setting and then run with it. But, be completely honest and don't try to take credit where credit isn't due. And go to every effort to make sure you don't steal ideas from job candidates.