Intellectual Property

Conflicts of Interest

Description of the Problem

A student finishes a Ph.D. working on a problem that has aspects that are directly patentable and solve a major problem in the disk drive industry. His new job could be with Hitachi or Seagate, or some similar firm.

He arrives at the new job and discovers that the work done as a student, which is in the patent process, will solve the problem at his new company.

If he reveals what he knows to his new employer he will be an immediate hero, but will compromise the patent process at his original institution. This step could have important financial implications for the original institution in the form of royalties.


  • What are the relevant ethical considerations in this dilemma?
    The answer could depend on missing information, such as the nature of the contract signed by the student with his institution, if any, and the nature of its intellectual property rules. This information may have an impact on what the correct ethical response is.