Vignette 4: Legally Blind

During EBICS retreat, Francesca attends the Industry Advisory Committee (IAC) reception. She meets for the first time with Arnold who is a research scientist at “Eyebot, Inc.”  Arnold’s research at the company focuses on the production of biological machines with photoreceptors that in response to visual stimuli cause contraction of skeletal muscle cells.  This was patented by the CEO, a former professor at Francesca’s university. Francesca’s main project as a graduate student is aimed at engineering a functional neuronal circuit as an endogenous source of control for biological machines.  Although her research is in its early stages and her advisor has advised her against talking about it to anyone outside of the collaborative research group, she starts sharing some of her findings and future ideas with Arnold.  She specifically includes some very detailed technical information and novel concepts about how her lab is achieving this goal.

About a year later while browsing the internet, Francesca comes across “The biggest news of the century; the first ever manufactured biological machine with endogenous neuronal circuit!”  The article continues to explain in detail how this machine moves around by sensing the environment and processing the information through a variety of neurons synapsed together; specifically the same neurons she has been working on for years.  She can’t believe her eyes when she sees a picture of Arnold with a big grin on his face, talking about his novel break-through.  She frantically reads through all the webpages reporting the news in the hopes of finding her name mentioned somewhere, anywhere, as either the motivator or originator of the idea; but to no avail.  She sits back in shock, thinking of how to break the news to her advisor.

Questions:

  1. Would you argue that originating ideas, i.e. intellectual property, is a criterion for having one’s name as an author on a paper, or would the sole mention of the contribution under the acknowledgement section suffice?
  2. In your opinion, did Francesca or Arnold cross any ethical or legal boundaries?
  3. When there is the potential for exchange of ideas between industry and academia, what safeguards need to be put in place in advance, e.g. confidential disclosure agreement (CDA) or non-disclosure agreement (NDA), and at what stage? What could EBICS as a center do to mediate between industry and academia?
  4. Is there any recourse that Francesca and/or her advisor can take with Arnold and/or his company?