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Here is a short sample from the book:
Sarah knew that something was wrong as soon as the phone rang. There was something about the timing of it, something about the sharp edge to the ring that made her pause and brush a wisp of hair out of her face before she picked up and answered.
“Sarah, have you got a minute?” There was concern in Vijay’s voice. He wouldn’t say what it was over the phone, but Sarah’s stomach took an immediate dip. Something was wrong.
“Sure,” she said, hoping that the rising tide of her anxiety didn’t bleed into her voice. “Should I come down?”
“That would be great,” Vijay said, and hung up abruptly. That, too, wasn’t like him – Vijay was a master of the modern world, but he was also deeply committed to traditional values such as family, politeness, and opening the door for a woman. There had to be something on his mind, otherwise he would never have ended a conversation without at a minimum asking how Sarah was doing. Something was definitely wrong.
The anxious feeling in Sarah’s stomach blew into a storm, and she stood in front of the window for a moment, gathering herself. Her window presented a magnificent view of downtown San Francisco, and part of her wondered why she hadn’t taken pleasure in it more often. She hadn’t, though, and now there was a fire to put out. She closed her eyes and took a few deep, calming breaths before picking a speck of fluff from her black skirt and starting down the hallway.
Vijay occupied the corner office, as befit his rank as the co-founder and primary investor in Sarah’s startup. When they first met she had been more than a little dazzled. He dressed in business casual in the office, but there was something in his manner that projected command, something that allowed him to walk into a room filled with the most wealthy and powerful men in the country – in the world, even – and yet somehow remain in charge. Behind that façade of effortless command, she knew, lay the soul of a deeply kind and considerate man. You could even see a twinkle in his eyes, if you weren’t too intimidated to look at him so closely.
While she was first getting to know Vijay, Sarah had been one of those who were too intimidated by his manner to truly understand him. When she pitched her first business plan to him, she was sure that he hated it; all of the plans that she had so carefully plotted out and diagrammed sounded to her ears like a child’s fairytale when delivered to a man so calm and impassive. When Vijay expressed interest in her plan, she thought he was just letting her down easy. When he said there were investors in his network that he could introduce her to, she thought he was being charitable. When he called her to a meeting and offered to invest in her company – which then was hardly a company at all – she thought he must be joking. Vijay, she learned, never joked about money, and he never made a promise that he didn’t keep. He provided the money that made her dreams a reality; along the way, he became her friend and mentor as well.
The office was flooded with midday light, and Vijay sat in the comfortable swivel chair behind his wrap-around desk. Sarah’s stomach sank even further when she saw who sat across the desk from him. Pete was an earnest man, and Sarah had never had reasons to doubt his motives or his good intentions, but the fact that he wore a suit and a bright red tie to a meeting in the heart of casual-dress San Francisco immediately signaled that a lawyer was present. Worse than that, Pete was Vijay’s IP lawyer. The topic of intellectual property, combined with the grave look on Vijay’s face, made Sarah’s sense of impending doom look to be right on the money.
“Hey guys, what’s up?” Sarah said, trying to sound more confident than she felt.
“Thanks for coming down, Sarah,” Vijay answered in a voice that contained just a hint of the accent from his New Delhi upbringing.
Vijay and Pete exchanged a glance, a nonverbal exchange that clearly said: “Do you want to tell her, or should I?” Vijay was the one to jump into the brief silence. “We’ve received a communication from Dennis.”
“Dennis? Is he back already? He’s not supposed to get back until Tuesday.” Dennis was one of her first employees in the new company that Sarah built with Vijay’s venture capital. Back then, when the whole operation was just a few people crowded around a table at Starbucks, there had been no well-defined roles or responsibilities, but Dennis had gradually taken on management of the more mundane aspects of the business. Sarah was grateful to him, because that sort of thing – contracts, office leases, leasing furniture – bored her to tears. With Dennis at her side, she had been able to focus on the parts of the business she loved: strategy and implementation. Right now Dennis was on a business trip to scope out possible office space for a satellite office in New York – or at least he was supposed to be.
Pete cleared his voice awkwardly, adjusted the glasses on his nose, and leaned toward Sarah. “Dennis has initiated legal action against us.”
“What?” Sarah’s mind was suddenly blank. What could that mean? Did he fall down the stairs and injure himself? Was it a personal injury lawsuit?
“Dennis is suing for patent infringement, Sarah,” Vijay answered in a tired voice. He was looking at her as if she had experienced a death in the family. Blankly she looked back and forth between Vijay and Pete.
“That can’t … what?” she finally said, fully aware of how stupid she sounded. How could Dennis be suing the company for patent infringement? Dennis was part of the company! It didn’t make sense.
“Dennis has initiated action against the company on the grounds that we have infringed several of his patents on the production and distribution of digital media,” Pete said in his lawyer voice. He reached down to the briefcase by his feet, snapped it open, and took out a sheaf of papers. “He’s asking for quite substantial damages.”
Sarah’s mind was still whirling, making it difficult for her to think. “Dennis has patents on digital media? He never said a word about that to me!”
Vijay took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, in a gesture that made him look like the most exhausted man in America. “It’s worse than that, Sarah. Dennis owns all of the company’s patents. All of them. They were filed in his name.”
For a long moment Sarah said nothing and simply stared at Vijay. Slowly the reality of the situation – what was happening and how it had happened – was dawning on her. She felt like the captain of the Titanic, looking out the window and seeing an iceberg in her path. “The company’s patents…?”
Vijay nodded, but it was Pete who spoke next. “Sarah, when you were filing for patents on the company’s core technology and intellectual property, how did you go about that process?”
Sarah closed her eyes. She had been so stupid. So very, very stupid. “Dennis was in charge of the paperwork. He filed for the patents. He said he didn’t want it to be a bother for me, he’d do the grunt work so that I’d be free to work on more important things.”
Vijay nodded and looked out the window, his arms crossed across his chest. Somehow that wounded Sarah more than an angry outburst possibly could have. She had failed him. He had believed in her, and she had failed him. She had failed them all.
No. No! There had to be a way to fight back. “But that must be fraud, right? He took my ideas and patented them himself, and meanwhile lied to me about absolutely everything. We’ll sue him back! Or better, let’s just call the cops! He’s a criminal!”
Part of her was hoping that Pete and Vijay would leap to their feet with a roar of approval, but instead her outburst was met with another uncomfortable silence. Pete wasn’t even looking at her anymore. Instead he kept his eyes on Vijay, his client, waiting to follow up on whatever that man’s decision was.
For a long space Vijay continued to look out the window. It was a magnificent view, but something told Sarah that Vijay was seeing none of it. Finally he let out a big sigh and looked back at her. “I’m sorry, Sarah. Dennis has all the cards. We could fight it, sure, but Dennis is the one holding the patents, and he brought his suit in East Texas.”
Sarah groaned. East Texas was home to courts that habitually found on behalf of the patent holder, even if common sense clearly dictated that the defendant should win the case. East Texas was where every spurious patent lawsuit in the country was opened. Sarah had friends and business associates who had been dragged to East Texas to defend against patent lawsuits, and none of them had won. Most hadn’t even tried; it was almost always cheaper to settle a patent lawsuit than it was to fight it, especially when you would be fighting uphill.
She took a breath and looked down at her feet, gathering her thoughts. “All right, so what’s next? Do we settle? How much is he asking for?”
“He’s asking for everything, Sarah,” Vijay said. He sounded so sad that Sarah almost teared up. “An ownership stake in the company, a seat on the board, and you’re out. He was quite explicit on that final point. He will not settle the suit unless you are removed from day-to-day company operations.”
Sarah was stunned. She felt like someone had punched her in the stomach. This was her company! This whole operation started with an idea that she had in the shower one morning; she had been so excited to write it down that she had dashed, wet and naked, into the kitchen to scribble notes on her refrigerator whiteboard while a puddle collected around her ankles. She had poured her heart and soul into this business, and now she was being pushed out? Just like that? There had to be another way!
Vijay’s stony face said that there was not. “I’m sorry, Sarah. I am so sorry, but my hands are tied. My first responsibility is to the investors, and if we choose to fight this, even if we win the only thing left will be a smoking hole in the ground. The company – and the investors’ money – will be gone. I can’t let that happen. I asked Pete to come down to draw up the paperwork. It’s over.”
Then the tears began to come, and Sarah fought angrily to hold them back. She wasn’t going to let them see her cry. Sure, she’d cry later – there would be time later for buckets of tears, and she would shed every last one of them – but not now, not in front of two men who probably thought she was the biggest idiot in the world. Pete she could handle. She had always felt a little awkward around Pete, and something about the color of his hair – which hovered halfway between brown and red – bothered her every time she saw him. But disappointing Vijay? Failing in front of Vijay? That was more than she could handle. That was worse than anything else she could imagine.
She nodded and stood up, letting slip a single sniff before she composed herself. She extended her hand to Pete, who shook it in his characteristically limp grip. “Pete, always a pleasure,” she said, not knowing what else to say. Then she turned to Vijay, and could think of absolutely nothing to say. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled at last, and turned to hurry to the door.
“Sarah,” he called as she reached the exit, and she turned to look back at him. “Learn from this. Defeat is never final until you stop trying to win.” She held his eyes for an extended beat, nodded once, and then slipped through the door.
Much of what came later was little more than a blur to Sarah. Somehow she found her way back to her office, and she dimly remembered slamming the door so hard that a picture fell off the wall. There was a couch in her office that she had never used. She sat on it now with her shoes off and stared off into space. In her mind she ran through one hundred ways of murdering Dennis, weighing their advantages and disadvantages. The primary categories were stabbing, crushing, drowning, and burning, with a number of variations within each theme.
That was fun for a while, but in the end she was left with the same empty feeling as when she started, and finally she looked around her office, wondering what to take with her. The office supplies could stay, of course. Sarah might be suddenly out of work, but she could still afford to pay for her own pens and notepaper. The picture of her parents would leave with her, and maybe the orchid in the window – when it bloomed the little white flower was so sweet, and it always made Sarah smile. But no, it would only remind her of the office, and that would remind her of her business, which would remind her of Dennis. Better to leave the flower pot behind.
In the end there was a shockingly small number of items to take with her. In a way Sarah felt that this was an indictment of her life. Her business had been everything to her, so important that she couldn’t even remember the last time she went on a date, but she hadn’t ever taken the time to decorate her own office. Somehow that seemed wrong, but there were too many failures in Sarah’s day already for her to accept one more. She grabbed her few possessions and marched out of the office as quickly as possible. The last thing she needed right now was sympathy from her former employees, or what would be worse – having to tell them what happened.
Walking down the sidewalk, something like anger returned and filled Sarah with a new sense of purpose. Fishing her iPhone out of her pocket, her thumb followed a familiar path to Ellie’s number.
“Hello?” her sister answered.
“Coffee. Now. You know the place,” Sarah answered, and hung up. Suddenly she felt the need for massive amounts of caffeine.