Intellectual Property issue?


I applied for an advertised PhD which I am in the final year of. A postdoc also applied for an advertised 2 yr fellowship on this topic, the advert wording was pretty much the same. The postdoc started 6 months after me worked separately and didn't collaborate with me and I needed to make some changes to my PhD due to them which I wasn't happy with and which caused me ongoing issues with my project. Now this postdoc has an academic role at another University and is advertising pretty much the same PhD as I applied for, to work with/ for her. This came up when I was doing a search for postdoc jobs related to my work. This postdoc treated me pretty badly. They sent me emails at midnight saying they needed the lab space the next day so I couldn't then do my planned work and if I was using equipment they wanted to use I had to stop my experiment. When I raised concerns about this no one cared. The lab is small so space had to be shared, there is no individual bench space. They made me very nervous about using the lab. Her manner was very abrupt and bossy. I was also bullied by the person who supervised her and if she supervises like them I am very concerned for the person she ends up supervising. It was a very toxic environment. Despite changes made to my PhD the PhD she is advertising is very similar and overlapping with my own and includes work that was originally planned to be part of my PhD. I considered emailing the director/ PI of that group with a copy of the PhD advertisement I applied for and details of what I am doing. I would want to share my experience to help ensure someone else isn't treated like me, but would hold back from doing that. Then I thought it may just be deemed inappropriate and go against me. So often I feel silenced and isolated. It helps a little maybe to share my frustration about this situation. Bullying seems to be quite prevalent in academia, at least in the field I work in, as victims feel silenced and systems in place make situations worse and protect the bullies.

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Hi Cat123,

I am sorry no one has replied before me but it sounds like you had a terrible experience with this postdoc. Unfortunately academia is blind to bullying and focuses on results (or papers) over people. Everyone from the top to the bottom is under so much pressure to publish or recruit students that there is no time treat people properly. It really is publish or perish and academics somewhat revel in it, which I think is disturbing. Academics endured it themselves when they younger and expect us to suffer as much or more as them, which is hwy I think the complaint process is inherently flawed. Survivor bias is wonderful at clouding people's opinions about what is acceptable. So what I am trying to say is, you can complain about the post-doc bullying you but I highly doubt anything will happen at all and might make an enemy.

To answer your question, I don't think you have any IP rights. Even if you did the research and published several papers, it is perfectly fine for people to replicate your work.


The other University which this postdoc went to is now advertising roles I am very interested in. I emailed and they replied back with a very positive email, they copied in this person and that was the end of the communication. I sent this former postdoc a friendly email directly and they didn't reply. Seems there is already an enemy there, perhaps they see me as a threat and this is now having an effect on job opportunities. I wouldn't like to work with that person anyway, the roles hadn't been advertised with them as a contact. I would like to continue doing related work, they pushed me from something I really wanted to do as a PhD student. I was able to do something related but it didn't interest me as much and I have had to work with very little support and have faced many obstacles. Hopefully I find a suitable interesting role in a supportive team.


Hi, Cat123,

I am not sure what you are asking but I hope I'll be able to answer your question as I do understand IP and tech transfer well.

1) Do you own the IP to your project?
Depending on your university policy, students may or may not own the IP to their PhD project. At my university in Australia, student own/co-own the IP generated in their PhD study.

2) Does this stop other people from doing the same research?
No, you cannot stop other people from working on the same research topic. You have rights to the IP generated in your own research but you cannot stop other people's work. Unless you have filed a patent over your IP and would like to sue the other party for infringement. Then again, a patent can only be filed on an IP that is both novel and inventive, so it must never have been disclosed/published/presented on before. I believe both you and this ex-postdoc have published the key concept and possibly presented the research data at conferences previously. In that case, there is a chance that both of you cannot file a patent on the IP.

3) What to do then?
You are in your final year, complete your PhD. I don't think it would be good to work in the same lab as the ex-postdoc. You will not be given a fair opportunity to shine at work and may have difficulty getting a reference when you leave.

If you really want to pursue your original stolen PhD idea, you could apply for a research grant yourself when you are a postdoc. But the ex-postdoc is already ahead of you.

Or you can get a job, either in academia or in industry with a more supportive group. If you do wish to go into industry, do so immediately after you graduate as the industry prefers fresh PhD graduates over seasoned people in academia whom they see as too ingrained in the system to adapt to non-academic life.