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Apologies if this is not the correct site for this- I work in a research lab that is in a kind of grey zone between academia and industry and I can't tell from the help centre if this would be considered off-topic here.

I'm a fairly junior researcher in my field, and I'm writing my first paper that I will be the lead author of. My paper is based on work that I did on a relatively niche process in my field that has little previously published on it.

However, I'm being told by my manager to not include any potential IP in the paper, and instead just report on the results. My issue with this is that work was fundamentally about creating a framework for this process- without the underlying technical description allowing the reader to recreate the process there is not a great deal of note I can say other than we did it and it worked.

The reasoning behind my managers argument is to ensure that the lab (which is kind of a corporate entity while also being a research lab) can exploit the work for products and services later down the line. I would be fine with this except that the company is quite poor when it comes to actually exploiting IP, and instead just prefers to sit on it. On top of that, the work performed doesn't really meet the level of being patentable, so it's not possible to protect the IP and then give a thorough description in the paper.

The likely outcome as I see it is then that I publish a paper with little technical information or impact and does nothing to further the field, the IP is not patented and the company does nothing with the outcomes of this work, meaning that the work might as well have not happened. As this is an area I am very enthusiastic about and have sunk quite a bit of my spare time in to (not to mention I am somewhat proud of it) I am rather disheartened by this.

My reasoning for wanting to publish the underlying technical content is that (a) it has a much better chance of being cited, having a greater impact and increasing awareness of the work (b) advances the field by allowing other groups to implement this process (c) does not stop the company from engaging in commercial work with industry in this area as we are really the only group with expertise in this area.

So my question is how should I approach this issue? Am I being overly pessimistic, and should I just accept what my manager wants? Or should I try and argue my position (and if so, how?)

Edit: to clarify, this is a publicly owned institution, that has dual aims of both generating impact from science and also making a profit to provide a greater value for taxpayer money. It doesn't really have 'competitors' per se, and can be either commercially or research focused depending on the issue.

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    Well, you lab's patent folks should submit a patent application.
    – Jon Custer
    Jul 8, 2020 at 20:51
  • @JonCuster the issue is that it was decided that the work doesn't really meet the level of being 'patentable', unfortunately. That would definitely solve all my issues if it was!
    – Jack
    Jul 8, 2020 at 20:56
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    Without details of the framework, it's worthless I reckon. You are better off writing a product brochure. Jul 8, 2020 at 20:58

1 Answer 1

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You are probably just stuck. "Trade Secret" is a valid concern of any profit making organization. And the fact that what you have done isn't patentable now doesn't mean that it can't later be combined with other things to result in products and patents in the future. Large organizations hold quite a bit of IP in reserve hoping for future breakthroughs. And even if the company can't think of a way to exploit the work, they would hesitate to provide a boost to any competitor.

So, your manager is probably telling you true. Your employment contract probably says something about that.

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  • A few ideas that turned into patents, and my PhD dissertation research after I retired, are public. Everything else I did, for over 30 years, was trade secret. If you really want to accumulate papers you need a more academic job. Jul 8, 2020 at 23:43
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    Thanks for your answer! I hadn't considered that the work could be combined with something else to be patentable in the future. That definitely makes me a lot happier with the idea of not publishing the technical data, even if it isn't my ideal choice.
    – Jack
    Jul 9, 2020 at 0:01
  • @PatriciaShanahan my lab is publicly owned, with the aim of generating impact through science while also having an incentive to make a profit to be better value for the taxpayer. In some areas we operate like university group in terms of publications, while others we are much more commercially focused. I love both aspects, but I guess this is my first taste of 'you can't have your cake and eat it'!
    – Jack
    Jul 9, 2020 at 0:11

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