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I'm interested in doing a part time PhD on the same topic I am currently working at a company for.

What do I need to do to make sure that I can fulfill my PhD obligations while protecting the IP of the company? How is this dealt with? Plenty of people work on start-ups after their PhDs which continue their research in some way so there must be a way to separate the two.

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    You need to run this by all relevant parties and legal departments. Universities often have ownership of works created by people employed by them using university resources. This could create issues with your primary employer. IP can be thorny. Sep 28, 2023 at 1:25
  • The difficulty of this is one reason that both companies and universities may put restrictions on whether you can work simultaneously for anyone else. I don't see how a general answer could be possible. If you're serious about this you probably need to ask a lawyer experienced in this area in your jurisdiction, not StackExchange. They will probably have to help you draft contracts with the relevant parties.
    – Bryan Krause
    Sep 28, 2023 at 1:55
  • Suppose I am not funded by the university but by an external source, does the university still own anything? Sep 28, 2023 at 2:25
  • Most universities will have commercialisation departments specifically for working through these issues. You need to get an agreement in place before starting. The most important conflict will be your (and your supervisor's) need to be able to publish results, compared with your employer's need for confidentiality.
    – messenger
    Sep 28, 2023 at 5:51
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    @FourierFlux It would be extremely difficult (and useless) to use zero university resources while conducting PhD research.
    – Bryan Krause
    Sep 28, 2023 at 14:42

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Since the university presumably has some input, e.g., through discussions with your supervisor (because otherwise, it would be independent research, not a Ph.D. project), the university will at least have a reasonable claim on IP.

We can't tell you. You will need to talk to your employer's legal and/or Human Resources team, and get them in contact with the university. There may be policies on situations like these on one of the two sides which the other side is happy about; then things may be easy. There may be policies on both sides, then negotiations may ensue. This may take a while.

As an example, if I collaborate with a university on some research project, my employer typically wants to own all IP generated, but will license it back to the university involved for research purposes at no cost. If the university is fine with that, they can just sign our contract, and everyone is happy. If they are not, things get tricky.

Whatever you do, start soon. I have been quoted a six month time frame for such negotiations from my employer's legal team. Also, note that if more than one university is involved, e.g., in some research collaboration, the negotiations may become very involved - I personally have been counseled not to even try a constellation like this, because coming to an agreement is likely impossible.

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  • Six months is perhaps a bit on the low side in my experience. But it is highly dependent on which university - some (CalTech) are excellent to work with (and they actually bill on time at the end of the fiscal year). Others? Not so much.
    – Jon Custer
    Sep 28, 2023 at 12:36

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