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I am a graduate student of Computer Science and am currently building an advanced project based on a paper that was released earlier this year at a major conference. I originally undertook this project as part of a course I am taking, but based on some initial testing results it looks like it has potential to make an impact in industry. That being said, I would like to continue working on this project and possibly market it in industry.

My questions are:

  1. Am I legally permitted to build and market this project without notifying the paper authors, or am I legally obligated to include them in this process?
  2. Assuming I have no legal responsibility to notify and include the authors in my endeavor, would it be unethical to omit them from the process, or is applying research in industry par for the course (i.e. the original researchers need not be and often are not involved)?
  3. Business ventures aside, should I reach out to the authors and let them know that I am working on this project, even if it's just in an academic setting? I have no need of their technical insights or expertise, but I would like to know if it is common practice to notify a researcher that their research is being applied and practiced (I know if it were my research, I would appreciate being told just to know that it was making a difference).
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In general, research that has been published openly in the scientific literature is freely available for anybody to use and build upon. As such, there is no requirement, either legal or ethical, to involve or notify the authors of the use to which you are putting their work.

The exceptions to this are:

  • If there have been patents filed (which should be stated in a conflict of interest statement in a journal paper, but may not appear in a conference paper) you may be constrained by patent licensing if the patent actually gets granted (though that typically takes a number of years).

  • If you publish a paper yourself, then you are ethically required to cite their work.

  • If you think the users of the system would find it interesting/useful to know about its origins, you can include it in appropriate parts of the documentation.

Beyond this, of course, most people would be happy to learn that their work is being put to good use: if you decide to contact the authors at some point and tell them what you're doing, they'll probably be glad to hear it.

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    Being able to point to applications of ones research in industry can be a relevant aspect in research evaluations. So letting the authors know is not just about warm fuzzy feelings for them, but could bring them tangible benefits. – Arno Apr 16 '16 at 11:20
  • @Arno Good point! It's also worth noting that it is not an obligation, however, as industry applications may sometimes turn out to have strong reasons to keep the internals of an application confidential. – jakebeal Apr 16 '16 at 11:37
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    Strong +1 to @Arno. Universities increasingly are required to document their contribution to economy. So, if it doesn't cost the OP much effort, it would be a good deed to provide the authors with a tangible document evidencing the usefulness of their work. – Captain Emacs Apr 16 '16 at 14:18
  • Thanks for the advice, I will notify the authors that I am using their work. – 01010110011001 Apr 16 '16 at 17:02

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