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I am an engineering masters by coursework student. For my final project I have implemented something I have since found is a current topic of research for another university (their project aim aligns with mine exactly). They have partnered with a company specifically as it seems to be a something that the industry is particularly interested in. Furthermore, it looks like the company in question is part funding the PHD involved. (i.e. there is a commercial concern at some level)

At heart, my project is the definiton of a conceptual backbone, a collection of ideas put forward in a way I am yet to encounter. Work—perhaps above my level of knowledge at this stage—would be required to optimize it, but I have implemented a working example of it. My goal would be involvement with the university research (co-authorship?) and/or involvement with the company itself (work + potential income). Of course this depends on if my project is actually worthwhile and aligns with their approach; there is only one way to find out…

So, without advice I’d simply contact both the head of the company involved and the research head at the university. My question pertains to the fact that I don’t know what I don’t know about this situation.

  • How can I both protect and further the interests of all parties?
  • Is there anything I should be aware of regarding intellectual property? According to my university, we own the IP for our projects.

Other details: My project was 1 year long and I am just a masters (it is the equivalent of 2 standard courses in terms of grades). The deadline to apply for the PHD program at the (foreign) university is over (2 months past), and regardless I am not interested in doing a PHD. I am more interested in getting involved in the industry.

Additionally, I gave a formal progress report of my project to my supervisor and examiner yesterday and there was immediate discussion about submitting it to an upcoming robotics conference (I would work with someone to make sure it has the required academic rigor). If it were successful, would conference proceedings impact the situation in any way?

  • In case you hadn't noticed I am a glass half full personality! I may be looking for problems where there are none, but I do this with the goal to optimise everything for everyone involved :) – Lamar Latrell Aug 18 '15 at 0:46
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    Is there anything I should be aware of regarding intellectual property (according to my university we own the IP for our projects) — Sounds like you will need to execute a nondisclosure agreement (NDA), possibly a three-way NDA, between you/your institution, the other institution, and the company. I suggest getting your advisor in the loop to help you navigate the logistics of such an arrangement and to help you establish contact with the other parties involved. Getting the others on board may be a challenge, though; it really depends on what you bring to the table and what their needs are. – Mad Jack Aug 18 '15 at 1:14
  • It's hard to gauge where they are at in terms of development, or where my implementation would sit comparatively. Maybe it's naive and already in the collective knowledge base, maybe with a small adjustment here and there it's the conceptual breakthrough they been looking for ... As my project didn't require a unique contribution to the field (it is coursework) I simply found something I was interested in that would 'show off my skills'.... – Lamar Latrell Aug 18 '15 at 3:15
  • ... As such, I didn't do a comprehensive search of the literature, I only looked at commercial implementations (of which I found none). The initial industry I was applying the project to is smallish, secretive and competitive. But interestingly, I've since realised my solution could generalise to other fields. – Lamar Latrell Aug 18 '15 at 3:18
  • @LamarLatrell, lead times to commercial use are normally several years. That you haven't found current applications doesn't mean they aren't in the last year of a ten year plan to launch next quarter, – vonbrand Sep 5 '15 at 16:23
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One aspect of research to be aware of is it patentability. If you publish your results in a paper, it may become ineligible for a patent. If you feel that your research has significant commercial value, it would be best to go through your institution's patent department. It would also work best as a point of negotiation between all parties involved.

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