I invented something as part of my job in R&D, and I plan to patent it and get clearance from my company for publication in an academic conference. All the key novel ideas are mine, and I implemented them all and ran all the experiments.

However, I just don't feel comfortable about putting down my name as the sole inventor and author. When I see single-author papers, they always make me wonder if the author is dishonest and/or bad at working with others.

But no matter how much I look at my paper, I just don't see any noteworthy contribution to it from any of my co-workers. We were working on the same problem, but each taking a different approach.

Hence, the solution I've come up with is to put a co-worker's name on my paper and ask (force?) him to make some contribution to it, like helping with the literature citations and/or experiments.

But even then, I'm pretty sure he won't contribute much and I'll still end up doing all the work.

Do I really need to go out of my way to avoid being a single author? :(

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    In my opinion, what's in the paper is more important than the number of authors. What made you think a single author is dishonest and/or bad at working with others? – scaaahu May 16 '15 at 5:59

As the proud author of many papers with all sorts of numbers of authors, anywhere from just myself to dozens of co-authors, I see no reason to avoid being a single author.

In evaluating a researcher, I would only have concern with their ability to collaborate if they show a preponderance of single-author papers. If somebody has a mix of single-author and multi-author papers, then my reaction will instead be more positive, because it shows they are both capable of collaboration and also capable of initiating truly independent work.

So: go for it on your single authorship (and/or inventorship)! Just make certain that your co-workers agree with you that they should not be authors/inventors, or else you may have an entirely different type of problem on your hands.

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    In my field, having more than three authors is rare, and even a preponderance of single-author papers wouldn't be particularly noteworthy. I'm more inclined to be skeptical of someone with no single-author papers. – Jessica B May 16 '15 at 8:08

There is nothing inherently wrong with single-author papers. It seems that you have a prejudice against single authors and, instead of using your experience as evidence to throw off that prejudice (you weren't dishonest and you presumably feel you're fine at working with others), you're trying to hold onto it by projecting that prejudice onto others.

Don't try to draft somebody in at the last minute just to avoid being a single author. To be honest, the way you describe it sounds manipulative and an example of being bad at working with others. Co-authorship is supposed to be about collaboration; it's not a mechanism for using other people so you can feel better about yourself. If the work is all yours, you are the sole author; if the contribution of others would improve the technical content of the paper, invite them to join you and do that.

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I do not see any ethical reasons to insist on avoiding being a single author in the situation you described. I think that you are overreacting with your negative view of single author scientific artifacts and their authors. However, as you most likely understand, it all highly depends on a particular circumstances and in many cases it would be unethical not to include other people as co-authors, if their contribution is significant enough.

I think that the legal aspect might be much more difficult to resolve, unless your company is not interested in your ideas, as AFAIK most employment contracts assign intellectual property of artifacts, created during employment time frame and at employment location, to the employer.

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  • I'm a bit curious about the reason for the downvote. – Aleksandr Blekh May 16 '15 at 6:08
  • Legal ownership is entirely distinct from authorship and inventorship. For example, I am listed as an inventor on a recently granted patent, but all of the rights of the patent are held by my employer. That doesn't mean the company is listed as an inventor, though. – jakebeal May 16 '15 at 6:08
  • @jakebeal: I understand the difference between authorship and IP rights. The reason I wrote the second paragraph is just to reflect on that aspect, since the OP mentioned it in the question. – Aleksandr Blekh May 16 '15 at 6:11
  • I don't see it there myself... it's all about authorship and inventorship, and no question of rights assignment. The OP even notes their need to get corporate permission for publication. – jakebeal May 16 '15 at 6:16
  • @jakebeal: Perhaps, I misinterpreted the permission phrase, but, considering the OP's need to request publication permission, the IP aspect seems to me like a valid one and related as well. – Aleksandr Blekh May 16 '15 at 6:23

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