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I want to ask the following question, but am not sure if it is appropriate for this site. Can you help me tell if it is okay to ask here? If not, can you point to a better forum?

I consider myself part of the community of scholars. I have a few publications, but have worked (hard) in industry for more than a decade.

I had a former colleague, one who works at a former employer, review a paper that I was planning to publish. They shared it internally, and the company requests that I not publish. They say: “The only people who would care are the competition.” I've put some decent hours in it. Do they have the right to do that, to tell me that I can't publish, if the content isn't theirs and/or isn't (remotely) confidential?

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I agree with the bulk of wrzlprmft's assessment, but I slightly disagree with the conclusion. I think this would be an interesting question.

The first point is something you should include to the best of your ability in the question itself ("my contract limits my ability to...") and will probably address more in comments as users probe. The second one is partly what you're looking to find out. The third one, while specific to your situation, is only moderately relevant, as I'm not really sure that it matters that much. Assuming we're talking about work done at the company in question (and not, for example, a WayMo/Uber situation), the only work that matters is what you did. The last question about relationship is always a factor but something you'll always have to assess for yourself.

That all said, there are a number of visitors to this site who are academics working in industry, particularly in computer sciences. From our FAQ:

This site is for academics of all levels – from students to senior researchers – as well as anyone in or interested in research-related or research-adjacent fields.

If you have a question about...

  • inner workings of research departments,
  • academic writing and publishing, ...then you're in the right place!

In that light, this definitely seems on-topic to me.

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The answer to your question mainly depends on four things:

  • What exact contract did you sign with your former employer?
  • What is the pertaining legislation?
  • To what extent does the paper build on things you did, learnt, or similar while working for that employer?
  • How much do you value your relationship to your previous employer?

I therefore do not think your question would be well received for two reasons:

  • In its current form, we can only answer with: “It depends (on the above points).” We tend to close such questions.
  • It is not really about academia, but about intellectual property in an industry setting. Your employer probably does not care whether you publish in an academic journal, on your blog, or similar.

The only exception from this is if you think for some reason that your employer is challenging your right of publication on basis on the rules for academic authorship only, but that would be rather unusual.

As for obtaining an answer to your question, I strongly suggest that you answer the four initial questions. Obviously most of these can only be answered by yourself. If you need help to understand the relevant laws in general, your question may be suited for The Workplace or Law SE. Note that on neither site (and the rest of the Internet) you will find free individual legal advice.

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