As part of my research I am using data was provided by hospitals to my research. The data is for medical reports, but no patient information has been identified at all. No patient privacy has been affected at all.

My aim is to make a business project from my research, which will be an artificial intelligence predictive model using that data for training purposes. (I did not declare this as it is just an idea at the moment.)

Can I build a product coming from my research and sell it? Will this have an ethics issue?

  • 7
    Data was provided by hospitals Who owns the data? You? Hospitals?
    – Nobody
    Aug 2, 2019 at 4:55
  • 1
    This really depends on two issues: (1) how your business project will use the data; and (2) the ownership and rules applicable to the data. Since you have not specified any information about either issue, there is little we can tell you.
    – Ben
    Aug 2, 2019 at 4:59
  • @Ben I have edited the question
    – asmgx
    Aug 2, 2019 at 5:04
  • @asmgx: Without giving away your idea, can you indicate how your product uses the data. E.g., Is the product itself developed independently from the data, but the data show it is in need, or is the product developed via some kind of linkage to the data? Unless you can give some idea of the relationship, there is no way to tell if there is even an issue here at all.
    – Ben
    Aug 2, 2019 at 5:10
  • 1
    @asmgx: I have edited your question to add this information.
    – Ben
    Aug 2, 2019 at 5:31

4 Answers 4


If you want to start a company using data from a source you do not own, and via ideas you developed as part of your research, you have to contact your university’s legal department.

You are not the only stakeholder here. In addition to the hospital (obviously) who may have a claim to ownership we have

  1. Your university
  2. Your PI
  3. Your funding agency
  4. Other collaborators

In addition, medical data is highly sensitive usually and at least in my university more care is needed. Did you obtain IRB approval for example? To illustrate: hospitals have to obtain consent from patients in order to release their data to third parties. If the consent was for research purposes only then you can’t commercialize it.

Good luck!


I have to assume in the following that none of your plans require you to make any of the data you received public in any way. That all you will do with it is to train the AI.

But there are still a few questions.

Was the data released to you or to the university for which you work/study? If to you, the university isn't a party, otherwise it is. But the hospital is, in any case.

The data was released to you for a purpose and you are going beyond that purpose. This may be allowed or not, but given the assumption above, it would probably be allowed. But you have to ask: the hospital and/or the university. Don't assume that it is allowed.

I think that the fact that this will be a commercial product has little relevance here ethically. But other stakeholders in the data may want a share. I suspect that giving them a perpetual free license to use any future product would be enough, but that is up to them to say.

You would also be wise to use more than one dataset for training.

  • 1
    if I’m not mistaken there may be issues with using data collected for research purposes for commercial use. Patients have to give consent (at least this is what I vaguely remember from the IRB workshop I took a while back).
    – Spark
    Aug 2, 2019 at 13:07
  • OP states there is no patient data, @Spark
    – Buffy
    Aug 2, 2019 at 13:11
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    It contains anonymized patient reports if I understand correctly. Hospitals have to obtain consent to release them for research purposes. It really depends on what patients agreed to when they signed for their data to be released.
    – Spark
    Aug 2, 2019 at 13:17
  • @Spark, and so, I recommend to ask the hospital and or the university.
    – Buffy
    Aug 2, 2019 at 13:19

Make sure that you are aware of the conditions under which you were given the data. There should be some document surely somewhere were this information can be found. Otherwise you can contact the institution that provided them to you and ask them.

I shouldn't say that it is impossible for you to do this, but you need to tread very carefully. Information you and i may not judge as patient information may infact be and such. Delicate matters.

Good luck!


In the United States, research universities will generally have a commercialization (sometimes called "innovation") office that can provid expert advice with exactly this kind of issue.

In general, they will likely be able to provide help with:

  • Managing any potential conflicts of interest
  • Intellectual property rights around your innovation, including filing the patent/copyright.
  • The commercial usage of research data and materials
  • Creating a legal entity and write legal documents (like licensing agreements)

Some go so far as to provide investment into startup companies, establish talent pipelines, negotiate commercial agreements such as rent, etc.

In return they typically ask for some portion of your licensing income (for IP) or may negotiate some other benefit for start-up companies.

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