Worked in research at a biotech company. I worked with a team of 20 for about 18 months on a promising novel technique. At that point we concluded that the technique wasn’t going to work. The project wasn’t salvageable. There is a fundamental limitation of the biology which means that we were not going to figure a solution. The team was disbanded. Some people found other jobs at the company. Myself and some others left the company. I left in part because I felt there was a stigma within the company about people who worked on this project.

I’m now at a grant funded, not-for-profit lab. The investigator is very excited about studying a very similar technique to the one we used at my previous company. The failed project is not public knowledge. I worried that many people will spend a lot of time on a project I know will fail. I personally don’t want to work on the project.

I have a non-disclosure agreement with my previous company which prevents me from disclosing methods and results of experiments I worked on. I don’t have a non-compete agreement.

This project would be a good fit for my experience. However, if this project goes ahead I can come up with a good excuse to work on a different project. When the project does end in disaster and I managed to work on something else people may suspect I held back information.

I’m worried this not-for-profit will spent a lot of money and peoples time and reputation on a fool’s errand.

Both organizations are in Massachusetts, USA.

Ethically and legally, can I prevent my new organization from starting a project I know will fail?

  • It's not really appropriate for us to give legal advice on how to interpret an NDA. You may want to have a lawyer review the actual document you signed and help you understand what it means. – dwizum May 10 '18 at 12:34

The NDA covers the specific of the projects, not the, using your words

fundamental limitation of the biology

You can make objections to the new project just referring to the theory behind, which, being known science, doesn't break any NDA.

To give you an example I met in my carrier: I was struggling with optimizing a recipe for depositing a thin film, needed for an electronic device. I asked an expert for an advice, since he was cooperating with a lot of companies and had vast knowledge on the topic. Every cooperation was covered by an NDA, but his advice was generic and valid.

Based on my experience, if you increase the Oxygen flow you might improve your result

In this way you also allow people to be able to counter your objection, because if they are expert they also know the science behind your objection.

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    Often times, the fundamental limitations are discovered in practice rather than theory. With newly developed testing methods that are created solely for this project and are property of Company A. However, I wonder can he say "I can't tell you why because of an NDA with Company A, but I know from experience that this won't work." – workoverflow May 10 '18 at 8:56
  • @workoverflow, he can simply quotes his experience (see my edit) without disclosing sensitive details. – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica May 10 '18 at 9:38

The obvious first thing to do would be asking the old company. Since they gave up on this technology, they might allow you to tell you. Or they might allow you to tell about the fundamental problem and nothing else. Or they might tell you that one word, and they will take you to court and make you wish you were never born.

Then you can make your decision.

If A and B are direct competitors, and A just lost $10 million investigating a technology that doesn't work, they might be very happy if B also wastes their time and $10 million on the same technology, instead of following some other direction that ends up giving them a competitive advantage.

I know that the second company is a non-profit, but maybe you can judge whether they would be seen as a competitor.

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    Don't go ask. They have no reason to relieve you of the NDA and will only be concerned that you'll make a problem for them. You're more likely to launch an investigation against your current employer and cost them a lawsuit than you are to save them money on the doomed project. – Glen Pierce May 10 '18 at 10:42

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