The FAQ has the following question and answer:
I am a researcher at a university (or another not-for-profit institution); do I or my research assistants need to purchase a Pro, Team, or Business subscription to use Docker Desktop?
No. You and your assistants may use Docker Desktop for free with a Docker Personal subscription.
This lends one to believe that as long as they work at a university or other not-for-profit institution and are willing to call themselves a “researcher” or an assistant to a “researcher”, they can use Docker for free.
But the the actual service agreement clearly states that, for most situations, this is not so:
4.2 Specific License Limitations – Docker Desktop.
(a) The Docker Desktop component of the Service at the level of the Personal Offering (as described on the Pricing Page) is further restricted to: (i) your “Personal Use”, (ii) your “Educational Use”, (iii) your use for a non-commercial open source project, and (iv) your use in a “Small Business Environment”.
(b) For purposes of this Section 4.2: (i) “Personal Use” is the use by an individual developer for personal use to develop free or paid applications, (ii) “Educational Use” is the use by members of an educational organization in a classroom learning environment for academic or research purposes or contribution to an open source project and (iii) a “Small Business Environment” is a commercial undertaking with fewer than 250 employees and less than US $10,000,000 (or equivalent local currency) in annual revenue.
This clearly states that any “Educational Use” is defined as:
… the use by members of an educational organization in a classroom learning environment for academic or research purposes or contribution to an open source project
This states that it has to be in a classroom learning environment (for either academic or research purposes).
So unless your research is done in a classroom, then it does not qualify.
Additionally, I would like to add that the service agreement should define what qualifies as “research”. I know some companies that classify their whole software development department as “Research and Development” (R&D).
Basically, the FAQ makes it possible for some to think that as long as they work at a not-for-profit organization, they are allowed to use Docker Desktop for free, but the Service Agreement clearly contradicts this (or at least puts further limitations on it).