What can I do if my Ph.D. supervisor is asking me to share the source code of my research? And how to protect the novelty of my thesis? - PhDData

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What can I do if my Ph.D. supervisor is asking me to share the source code of my research? And how to protect the novelty of my thesis?

November 2022

The following steps, as recommended by Ph.D. academics:

  1. Seek assistance filling out a statement of invention or disclosure of innovation form from your school’s commercialization or technology transfer office.
  2. Do not engage the low-wage front desk staff. Schedule a meeting with the office’s IP manager or director or their counsel (legal)—someone at a higher position which seems sympathetic. The council is usually incredibly impressive, even if the office staff is utterly unhelpful.
  3. Justify why you think your code is valuable as a new procedure (possible utility patent) or as a copyrighted or trade secret piece of information. You don’t have to understand the meaning of the words right now; you need to capture their attention.
  4. Describe how your adviser pressures you to discuss your idea before the commercialization office evaluates it. You want to have an open conversation with them about the significance of your code and the safeguards in place to keep it safe. Obtain their assistance in completing the form.
  5. If you don’t succeed at first, try again with another office contact.
  6. You should inquire if they have time today and offer to wait in the waiting room if they believe they may have time later without first revealing your department or advisor’s name. Don’t give them the means to expose you before you’ve had a chance to discuss IP protection.
  7. Even if they don’t want to patent or protect your idea themselves but are willing to give it to you (through an invention release form), you should still contact the university’s Ombuds office and explain that you need assistance navigating the process of commercializing or protecting your idea. So that this doesn’t devolve into a petty dispute, you should devise a plan to have someone else in authority (an associate dean of research, the vice president of the research office, or whomever) speak on your behalf.

The cardinal rule of empirical research is that you should never reveal your unprocessed data (or, in this instance, your source code) to anybody except your supervisors.

  • If someone else has published using your source code, you may have trouble getting your article distributed since you cannot claim authorship.
  • You have no idea how it will be utilized; it may be for something you vehemently oppose.
  • You risk losing access to it altogether because someone else may benefit from it but hasn’t used it.

However, some future academics argue that making your code public is always in your best interest. Therefore, if your mentor requests this of you, you should give it your full attention. In particular, if you share with a partner, you should avoid making it open source.

One of the most significant ways to protect your intellectual property is to get your work published in a peer-reviewed academic publication. Then you’ll have proof of when you wrote the code. Even anything like a conference transcript would do. They advise making your code publicly accessible through a GitHub repository and citing that information in your paper. Once again, the repository will give a timestamped history of your code.

In addition, you need to go out there and promote your efforts by giving speeches. When people use your algorithm or piece of code, they will think of you. Many would question the motives of somebody who suddenly appeared to possess a comparable item. But in the interim, you’ll earn a name for yourself as a helpful group member who isn’t shy about sharing their findings. A piece of code you write while working on your Ph.D. may seem like a massive deal at the time, but after ten years in the field, you’ll look back on it and realize it was only a stepping stone. This reputation is worth much more.

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