Sometimes Silence is Golden

Tom was working with supervision provided by a graduate student Mr. Li on a proprietary summer research project in Professor Zhou’s lab which enjoyed private financial support. The project which was nearing completion was an exciting one on a currently hot topic in nanoscience and the results were so exciting that the university and the company had jointly filed for an international patent. As the project involved significant intellectual property everyone working on the project including Tom had been required to sign a confidentiality agreement at the outset. One day Tom overheard Mr. Li discussing the research project with a friend who is a graduate student from another research group in the department at the university.

Consider each of the following questions and evaluate the case study:

1. What is the action or inaction that is the cause for concern?

 

2. Who or what may be affected?

 

3. How will they be affected? (i.e., what are the possible consequences?)

 

4. Are there any laws, regulations written or unwritten that may apply?

 

5. What actions might be taken and what would the consequences of these actions be?

 

6. Can anything be done to prevent this from reoccurring or to minimize the severity of the consequences?

 

Basis for Case Study 7
The basis for this case study is a patent dispute between a former faculty member at the University of Connecticut and a private company, Sequoia Sciences, Inc. with whom the professor had a confidentiality agreement. When the company refused to share inventorship of a potentially valuable patent with the professor, the professor allegedly violated a signed confidentiality agreement disclosing the name of the compound on which he had been working in a footnote to a paper he presented at an international conference.

 

K.S. Mangan. (2006). Chronicle of Higher Education. January 27. “Professor Sued for Revealing Data.” http://chronicle.com/weekly/v52/i21/21a02901.htm