Simple situation. Free article, not published and allowed to publish by anyone. If I can make sure google indexes the copy on my site first, will I be considered the owner ? Or should I just forget about that article at all (in that case my competitor will possible the only one with the article)?
I'd say it's nowhere near that simple. Identifying the original source for any document is a difficult problem for any search engine. Google uses a number of factors - including strong emphasis on backlinks pointing to the original author. Google spokespeople have emphasized that as one of the most important of many things they look at.
Here are some Google patents about detecting and handling duplicate content. This can give you some picture of various approaches they have been trying: