I'm currently writing my diploma thesis (old equivalent of master in Germany) in mathematics. It's about a fairly new combinatorical optimization problem which has military applications. In fact, the problem originates from that, even though in the formulation I'm studying it is a bit more theoretical.

I got this topic without the knowledge of its applications and of course I don't like optimizing the ways of killing people. (Just to clarify: luckily there are other (good) applications too)

It is likely that my research will end up in a paper, thus beeing widely available. Is it possible to restrict usage of such research to non-military applications only?

(side note: Probably no military organization will ever comply with such a restriction. I'm aware of that.)

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    No. Once you publish an idea, anyone is free to use it however they like (modulo software patents). – JeffE Oct 25 '12 at 0:45
  • See also: Can I use my powers for good? on Math.SE. – gerrit Oct 25 '12 at 7:38
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    The important thing is not to make military agencies the only players with access. – Raphael Oct 25 '12 at 8:53

I don't think you have any right to restrict the usage of your publications. You might retain the original copyright (or your publisher will), and thus prevent that anyone else (including the army) can publish your work on their behalf, but you can't prevent someone to use your idea just because it's published.

A legal possibility could be to file a patent protecting your approach, but I'm not sure if it covers all usage or only commercial usages (in which case the army could use it as long as they are not making money out of it). You might want to check this with AskPatent.

You could also not publish it, and it could be possible to ask your university to consider your thesis as confidential (I've seen some cases where a thesis was confidential, when some companies were involved in them), but your advisor might not agree.

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    Regarding preventing the use of your technology via a patent, in the UK there is the provision of Crown Use (Section 55 UK Patents Act 1977). This means that the Crown (i.e. the UK Government) can use your patented technology if they choose, without your express authorisation or assignment. I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice. The above is written from a UK perspective, other jurisdictions may have similar or different laws. – Nicholas Oct 25 '12 at 15:49

I was offered an opportunity to work a while back in the same field as you; optimization applied to military applications. It was related to anti-ballistic missile defense. I didn't take the project though, since defense, while perfectly acceptable to me, seemed very unlikely to be ultimate usage of my research. The literature in that field trots out continuously the same bogeymen of Iran and North Korea, but that seems bogus to me. More plausible, is that that research aims to gain us more technical leverage over countries we want to push around; like Russia, India, and China. I'd much rather work on research that has more peacetime applications, the elevate the human condition, rather than empower the worst people among us to impress their personal agendas on not only their own people, but practically the entire planet.

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    What, no Red Lectroids from Planet Ten? – JeffE Oct 25 '12 at 0:46
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    I sympathize. Still, there is probably not a truly civil area of (science/engineering) research. – Raphael Oct 25 '12 at 8:54
  • Fun read, but not an answer. – Cape Code Sep 17 '14 at 13:12

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