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I'm an academic researcher with a very good publication track record in computer science.

I'm considering the possibility of applying for a research position at a well known telecommunications company with a large research department. But I still would like to have the possibility of publishing theoretical work.

1) Are researchers in private companies usually allowed to publish theoretical work produced in cooperation with researchers outside the company?

2) Are researchers in private companies usually allowed to publish theoretical work produced inside the company?

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    This is likely off-topic here as it is about a company. But the place to get an answer is from Erickson's HR office. Or you could read the contract if you have one. Just guessing, though, is that you will give up a lot of IP rights to the company, including non-compete and trade secret rules, etc. – Buffy Aug 26 '18 at 13:19
  • For future reference, see the Help Center to see what questions work well here and which are likely to be closed: academia.stackexchange.com/help. Anyway. Welcome to Academia. – Buffy Aug 26 '18 at 13:22
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    Actually the issue is the same. There is another site here that is better suited to such questions: workplace.stackexchange.com and possibly others. – Buffy Aug 26 '18 at 13:38
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    As a researcher in industry, I strongly believe that this question is on topic and appropriate. – jakebeal Aug 26 '18 at 16:59
  • Do you mean, are they permitted to by the academy or by their employers? – Azor Ahai -- he him Aug 27 '18 at 1:20
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Speaking as a researcher at a private for-profit company, who also publishes frequently, it all depends on the nature of the business model and the position.

Most people at companies do not publish, either because the company has no interest in publishing or because their particular job doesn't involve much of scientific interest. For companies that are involved in cutting edge work, however, scientific publishing can gain credibility and visibility for the organization just like it does for people at universities. This is the case for the company I work for, particularly given that many of our projects are federally funded research where the government is paying us in part to disseminate knowledge.

Nor is there any necessary conflict between protecting intellectual property and publishing. The three main strategies for protecting IP are copyright, patent, and trade secret. Of those, only trade secret is incompatible with publishing, and it is generally the most fragile and least used in any case.

The biggest obstacle to publishing in private industry is simply priority and time. Writing a manuscript is a lot of work, and if management doesn't see much benefit, they will likely want you to use those hours for things more directly connected to the bottom line. You might be able to publish out of hours, but that can be a more complex negotiation.

Bottom line: it really depends on the particular circumstances. The best way to know if you will be able to publish is to look at whether others in the group you are joining publish. If so, you probably can. If not, there are likely major obstacles, whether formal or merely pragmatic.

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  • Unfortunately this answer fails to make an essential point. Most companies take control of the decision to publish for their employees. There is a gate between you and publishing, even for work not done on company time. The fact that the gate will be opened for you in most cases doesn't change the fact of the gate, nor the fact that its default position is closed. You give up your freedom to decide what to publish and yield it to your employer. You can decide whether that is good or bad, but you can't make it not a fact by wishing it weren't true nor by finessing the outcome. – Buffy Aug 28 '18 at 10:35
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    @Buffy I don't dispute your statement---it's just that in my experience as a private researcher, it is pragmatically rarely relevant. If you are in a publications-friendly position, then the system will be tractable and generally pose much less of an obstacle than peer-review or collaborators. If not, then the formal permissions process is probably much less of a barrier than "Why did you spend 80 hours on this crap when you could have been doing your job?" – jakebeal Aug 28 '18 at 11:02
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It is not possible to answer your question unless you specify the company name. Many companies are very active in research, and many companies are not. As you are not an employee yet, you cannot ask the HR, but you can search.

For example, if you search for "deep learning" in ACM, and click on institutions on the left menu, you can see there is Microsoft, IBM and Google there. ACM also keeps company profiles, so you know what topic they are interested in, for example this is profile of Google.

Someone (from Amazon) just told me that Amazon had nearly turned FLoC into a private Amazon event. The conferences at FloC are highly theoretical, and among the most prestigious in logic.

But actually, you don't need to ask this question, as in the companies that are active in research, the directors/principal engineers etc are often former professors, and we followers immediately know where big shots move :-)


Update: thanks @Anyon for pointing out that the company name was editted out. Yes, that company does publish, see its profile in ACM.

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    Psst. If you check the edit history of the OP you'll find the company name. It was likely edited out so that the question wouldn't depend too much on personal factors. – Anyon Aug 27 '18 at 19:10
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In general terms, if the publication is, in any way, related to the company's business it will probably be contractually forbidden unless specific permission is given for the paper.

Signing on with a company that depends on IP usually means that anything you produce is theirs, not yours. Read the contract to be sure. Some contracts try to bind you forever, even when you leave the company. The legality of these can be challenged and they may be illegal in some places.

However, if your other work is completely unrelated, then it is probably ok, but it needs to be "released" by whoever is responsible for IP control at the company.

On rare occasions (THE WOZ at HP, for example), a company will give permission to do something that would otherwise be prohibited, but normally because they lack sufficient insight to see the consequences. If they are happy enough to make an exception, make sure you have it in writing - signed and maybe notarized.

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    I assume that too, I just meant that some companies allow their employees to publish (some) of their work. – Adrian Aug 26 '18 at 14:11
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    My employer (not Google or IBM) can certainly deny publication if it is inappropriate for the needs of the business, but on the other hand it has a formal procedure in place to approve papers for external publication, conference presentations, etc, and there is a steady stream of papers (of the order of 10 to 100 per year) that are approved for publication. – alephzero Aug 26 '18 at 18:49
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    Oh - absolutely. But if that is your line, you need to consider all the US government labs as well - they all have processes to allow release of information including publications. Scientists are allowed to publish, they just need to follow the rules. – Jon Custer Aug 27 '18 at 13:53
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    It isn't national security per se - yes making sure it is not classified is part of it, making sure it isn't patentable is part of it, but formal internal review and quality control is also part of it. And, generally, that has been true at every non-university place I've worked or interacted with. It is a hurdle, yet my groups over the years have managed to publish many many papers (and I've got the auto-generated emails from the review process to prove it!). – Jon Custer Aug 27 '18 at 14:33
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    @JonCuster To build on what you've said: a nice example of this is NIST. Assured quality in results is a critical part of their mission, so every publication goes through a rather strict internal technical review before submission is allowed. – jakebeal Aug 27 '18 at 15:44

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