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We recently asked several manufacturers if they could send us a sample of their material(s) for us to test towards their suitability for a process we developed. They sent us free samples. Once we identify the most suitable material we plan on ordering more from that material.

After receiving the materials, we decided to expand our testing towards optimizing said process and we have enough content for a publication. I am now wondering if we should (or have to) thank the manufacturers in the acknowledgements for their provision of free materials, even though we did not explicitly ask them for materials for the purpose of the publication.

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    Particularly if you will name a ‘superior’ product you need to talk to your local legal team first.
    – Jon Custer
    Feb 3, 2023 at 15:19
  • @JonCuster I am unsure if the legal aspect is necessary. After all, we will not generally name one product as superior, but as superior for OUR APPLICATION. That does not devalidate the product for other possible applications.
    – Sursula
    Feb 8, 2023 at 11:26

2 Answers 2

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You should definitely mention this in the paper. There is a conflict-of-interest concern here so that you should be as transparent as possible. This arrangement is very common with pharmaceutical manufacturers and academic research.

Whether you do it in the acknowledgement or within the methods is really up to you, I'd probably put it within the materials and methods, as part of the ordinary recognition of where materials come from. E.g.:

Basket-weaving materials (straw, Intl Straw Corp, Des Moines, IA, USA; wool, Sheeps Down Under, Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia) were donated by the manufacturers.

In addition, you may want to outline the scope of the conflict in a separate disclosure section, and note that while materials were provided for free the companies involved had no input on the design, execution, or presentation of the results, assuming that's all true. Remember, "conflict of interest" doesn't mean your work is corrupted, it just means that interests conflict, and the best way to defuse any perceived issues is to be transparent.

You may also want to address whether this was an appropriate use of the materials from the perspective of the manufacturers. Presumably they expected you were going to use the materials to decide whether to purchase more: they're providing them as a sales tactic. Instead, you've created a product (research paper) out of the freely given materials, and that product could reflect positively or negatively on the people providing you materials. As you can imagine, someone could be quite upset if you've used their free gift to explain to everyone that their product is inferior to their competitors. If you've signed any agreement about the transfer of materials I'd first check whether that agreement has any statements about how the materials can and can't be used, and if it's unclear or unstated, it's probably worth reaching out for permission, or just asking to pay for the value of the samples if that's feasible. Jon Custer recommends in a comment to consult with your institution's legal team and I think that's a very good idea.

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    You probably mean “defuse” in “ diffuse any perceived issues ”. Feb 4, 2023 at 11:50
  • Definitely the sources of the materials should be disclosed in the body of the paper. This is relevant to interpreting the results of the study, as it might turn out, for example, that NSW wool has has different properties than Scottish wool. If I got the samples for free then I'd be inclined to also acknowledge the manufacturers, as a matter of simple courtesy. Feb 4, 2023 at 16:03
  • "quite upset if you've used their free gift to explain to everyone that their product is inferior to their competitors" That is a very strange idea. Companies send gifts to reviewers with the expectation of an unbiased review all the time. Feb 4, 2023 at 16:29
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    @AnonymousPhysicist Just because some companies do a thing doesn't mean every one does or that every "gift" comes with the same terms.
    – Bryan Krause
    Feb 4, 2023 at 16:55
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I suggest that you ask each of them whether they would like to be acknowledged or not. Some might not want to be named, especially since you didn't make your intention about the use clear. Many corporations are (very) sensitive about being named in any way that might affect their brand.

If some say yes and some no, then you have a dilemma and you might have to be clear in an acknowledgement that there were others who prefer not to be named.

In general, however, it is good to acknowledge such contributions to a study but also to make the use clear and that the research will likely result in publication.

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