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I'm considering an internship offer at a company that does R&D work. If I accept, I'm going to develop some technology in this internship, file a provisional patent in my name, and publish a paper. However I also plan on furthering this research and seeing if I could launch a product myself but this leads to a conflict. Is it ethical to use work/progress made in an internship for a company to launch another product that competes with said company?

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    Ethics won't really matter - whether you get paid or not, you'll still have to sign a contract which will most likely cover this (chances are it'll be a resounding no and they'll be able to take legal action).
    – user25730
    May 10 at 21:41
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    Is this an internship mandated by some form of education or a position offered by the company?
    – AsheraH
    May 11 at 5:05
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Is it ethical to use work/progress made in an internship for a company to launch another product that competes with said company?

Yes, it's unethical and it's likely to be a breach of contract as well.

Once you work for the R&D department of a company, it's very likely that you won't own any of the IP you create when you're employed by them.

Be sure to read the contract they give you, plus any related "employee manual" mentioned in the contract. And do not sign it if you don't fully understand what you're agreeing to.

If you really want to work on a side project while you're working at that company, and if you're willing to work on a non-competing side project, maybe you could write in that project as an exception in your contract, and ask that employer to countersign your addendum. But you'll have to do this before you start your employment, because that's the time when you have the most leverage, and you'll probably want a professional friend to review that addendum before you suggest it to the company in question.

As an intern, and as long as your project is not a competing project, your employer probably won't care and will probably sign your addendum after getting the approval from legal. At least, I'm speaking from the perspective of someone living and working in the United States. In other countries, the norms may be different.

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  • What if the project I choose to work on in the side is not related to what I work on during the internship, but still a competing project in the same area?
    – Jim Bob
    May 10 at 22:16
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    @JimBob, No. At least, not unless you started this side-project already and it's already well underway. And even then, it would really depend on the employer and the type of project you're making. May 10 at 22:22
  • Stephan, it won't in any way be "illegal", that makes no sense. The OP will get sued, but there's no "legal" trouble, no laws are involved.
    – Fattie
    May 10 at 22:54
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    @JimBob - you'll be signing a HUGE contract relating to IP issues. The only answer to your question will come from looking at that contract. It is all-but inconceivable that it would allow you to work on "unrelated" IP. But sure, you'll know when you see the contract - end of story.
    – Fattie
    May 10 at 22:56
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    @JimBob, To be frank, not many companies are going to see a 17-year-old as a competitive threat. Also, if the start-up is small enough, the paperwork you receive may not be that bad. I think we probably worried you for nothing. Well, don't get me wrong. I still think you should read the contract. And if the contract tries to own everything you create while employed with them, I still think you should push back and ask them for an exception. But even if that's the case, I don't envision them refusing such a request for an exception unless your project is an exact copy of their product. May 16 at 6:33
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"Ethics" are utterly unrelated.

You will sign a contract which will (likely) completely forbid this.

(If you work somewhere where it is not forbidden by contract, do whatever you want.)

Be aware that companies are completely devoid of "ethics". They are completely "a-ethical".

Talking about ethics and a company is like ... talking about the weather and the ethics of the weather.

Companies are not even human. They're an abstraction. If a company happens to want to fire you, you'll be fired instantly and get a form email sent from a HR outsourcer. There's no "ethics" involved.

Your mention of "ethics" is totally misplaced. Best not to start your career on the wrong foot with mistaken ideas. Best of luck.

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  • "Be aware that companies are completely devoid of "ethics". They are completely "a-ethical"." Not when the codes of ethics are associated with professional bodies whose membership is mandatory for the licensing legally required for their employees to work in that field, they aren't. A civil engineering firm, for instance, would be bound by the code of ethics held by the professional licensing body for civil engineers.
    – nick012000
    May 12 at 3:35
  • "If a company happens to want to fire you, you'll be fired instantly and get a form email sent from a HR outsourcer." Maybe in America, but in other countries, there are laws that actually protect the rights of workers.
    – nick012000
    May 12 at 3:37

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