I work as an engineer in industry. I have been working alone in a project of my firm for four months. In the course of this, I invented a technique which can optimize and reduce considerably the cost for my firm.

The R&D manager said my work is original, he hasn't seen it before. Therefore, my work will be presented to the director of my firm in the committee meeting next month, and he agreed with me that I can publish my work.

Yesterday, when I made some verification of citation sources, I found a thesis, published in December 2016 with the same idea as mine.

I made up this technique on my own, and I have never known this thesis before. But the key idea is already published in the thesis.

I understand now that I can no longer publish my technique. Even if I find my technique is actually more general and seems better than the technique in this thesis, it is not sufficient to publish unless I make more improvement.

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    "Even if I find my technique is actually more general and seem better than the technique in this thesis, it is not sufficient to publish unless I make more improvement." I don't understand. "More general" and "better" are two valid arguments why your work is an improvement to the state of the art. Why do you need even more improvement? – lighthouse keeper Mar 12 '17 at 7:42
  • The technique in the thesis apply in a particular case with a restraint condition, my technique can be used in general case without the restraint condition, and the speed of calculation is better because I found a general formula. But the main key of idea is from the particular cas. Just an example, with the technique in the thesis, we can gain 100$, with my technique, we can gain 105$. – NN2 Mar 12 '17 at 8:02
  • I think you are right. In the case I write a paper, must I cite the thesis? – NN2 Mar 12 '17 at 8:05
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    OK, I think in this case you're fine, see my answer. You seem to worry about the use of the same idea, but an idea is not much of a research contribution in itself. The execution of the idea is more important, and your execution seems to work better than the existing one. – lighthouse keeper Mar 12 '17 at 8:18
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    What makes you think that you shouldn't cite? – Peaceful Mar 12 '17 at 12:15

Must I cite?

Yes, you must cite the thesis, since it's part of an author's responsibility to give an accurate representation of the state of the art.

I understand now that I can no longer publish my technique

I think these worries might be unjustified. Most research is incremental, in the sense that it improves on existing work, rather than inventing something completely new. Just cite the work and clearly discuss (or even better, show experimental evidence) why your technique gives an improvement in terms of generality and speed.

  • Thank you for your advice. For my firm, tomorrow I will talk to my R&D manager about the existence of the thesis. I'll cite this thesis in the paper I will write. A little sad because just one night, my contribution drop from 105$ to 5$ and I can take the risk of plagiaism, sometimes I wish I didn't know the existence of the thesis. But I understand, it's life of R&D. – NN2 Mar 12 '17 at 9:10
  • I'm curious: what is the rationale behind this, if one did not consult the other source in the preparation of the work, but created the same thing totally independently? – The_Sympathizer Mar 12 '17 at 23:22
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    @mike3 A paper needs to have a scientific contribution, that is, present a knowledge advancement. To make its contribution clear, a paper needs to portray the state of the art accurately, – lighthouse keeper Mar 13 '17 at 7:11
  • @lighthouse keeper: Perhaps, but I am more trying to figure out how and why that coming up with something on two independent occasions by two different people would make one "plagiarizing" the other. As I thought that plagiarism must involve an act of copying. Simultaneous creation of the same thing independently in two separate places is not the same as copying it from one place to another. – The_Sympathizer Mar 14 '17 at 22:06
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    @mike3 You're right in that Nguyen would not actually commit plagiarism by not citing. Still, he would neglect his responsibility to portray the state of the art accurately, which is a violation of publication ethics. Intentionally not citing may fall under plagarism policies, since there's no way for a reader to distinguish between actual simultaneous creation and a deliberate omission of related work. – lighthouse keeper Mar 15 '17 at 5:56

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