Contests, Industry Secrecy, and an Ethical Dilemma

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The Where's the Line? blog has posted a very interesting ethical dilemma.

I work for a large automotive company, and each year we host a contest for graduate engineering students to come up with "best" new idea for the future of the industry. We recently viewed presentations from the finalists, and one young man's stood out as groundbreaking and having huge potential value to the future of our company. When I met with my colleagues to deliberate about the winner, it was proposed that the top prize be awarded to another candidate – his idea was good, but not as groundbreaking and potentially lucrative as the other – because the winning idea will be the subject of a feature story in a trade publication and it was worried that our competitors would steal the idea.

The advice given in the post is one potential way to solve the problem, if secrecy is really that important, but I'm not sure that it is. My gut reaction is to call the company a bunch of pansies who are afraid of competition, but that's probably not the correct response either. What do you think? Is the ethical duty to the spirit of the contest, or the secrecy of the company?

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