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N.B. This question is about physics (if you want it really specific: applied physics, adjacent to chemistry). This means that (a) abstracts are typically very short compared to a full paper (around 1-2 pages including references and not more than one figure) and (b) peer review is rather weak (typically all done by members of the technical program committee, with very high acceptance and revisions often either optional or non-existent). I am aware that this might look very different in other fields (e.g. CS).

Does a such a conference abstract establish a "claim" to an idea? More specifically, if another competing group, who are working on fleshing out the same idea independently, submits a full journal paper, would the idea not be considered novel anymore?

Some thoughts on why I personally find some of the implications of the latter case (conference abstract implies claim to the idea) a bit strange:

(a) It appears to me that it would then be very easy to "put a towel" on ideas by doing minimal work and getting out an abstract at some conference (the presentation is unlikely to be public, so really only the abstract is seen by most people) - at which point it becomes "your" idea, no matter who is already working on it or when/if you plan to deliver a full paper. This also seems to favour groups which can actually afford to send people to conferences (which are almost always cost travel + registration), which of course can be an issue in some places.

(b) When there is some overlap between the authors of the conference abstract and the full paper it suddenly becomes completely fine - so basically, to get past the novelty issues the group with the full paper could ask some author(s) of the conference abstract to be an author on the journal paper (no matter what they had actually done apart from having the same idea). Seems to encourage odd authorship practices.

(c) Ideas that were abandoned by the group authoring the abstract for whatever reason (even just mundane ones such as running out of money) may never be published as full papers. After all, it becomes somewhat unattractive (at least career-wise) to work on something which the reviewers/editors of a journal would not consider novel.

And in the former case (conference abstract does not mean you claim the idea): How (if at all) should the conference abstract be mentioned/referenced in a full paper (also as own conference abstracts are not normally referenced again in a full paper)? If it should be referenced, should one somehow point out that the reference is indeed not to a full paper but something that is ongoing/unfinished work?

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    This could probably be a lot shorter. Feb 16 at 22:50
  • Typically, not even prior full publications by another group preclude your publishing something. Chances are that you would have a different twist on the same central idea, evidence from a different system, etc.
    – Anyon
    Feb 16 at 22:58
  • Scooping is a horror story for undergrads. The truth is that thousands of similar papers are published, there is space for everyone.
    – The Doctor
    Apr 6 at 11:49

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I'm not sure that this will answer all your concerns, but note that publishing an idea doesn't give you "ownership" of it, nor does it put a block on other related or parallel research. Ideas aren't owned at all. Certain expressions can be copyrighted and devices can be patented, but that is a time-limited set of rights over the expressions or devices.

What prior publication does give you is the right to be recognized and cited for introducing the idea, though if it is presented in an abstract form without evidence that might have little value.

The question as to whether a later publication of a full paper, following an abstract and publication of another paper, is "novel" enough for publication is a judgement made in individual cases by the reviewers and editors of the publisher. It isn't a judgment that has a universal decision so can't be made here.

So, no, you don't set a marker for others with an abstract, preventing them from extending their, and your, work. To turn it around, someone else's abstract doesn't halt your work, though you may need to provide appropriate citations to what has been published. And in this case as well, the reviewers and editors need to be convinced.

If someone "scoops" you, a common occurrence, you have the option of further extending the ideas in the current state of the art adding sufficient novelty to please the reviewers. It is how academia and science, (perhaps) especially, functions.

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