Use of Confidential or Proprietary Information - Case D2
Tom Owens has an undergraduate degree in microbiology and has been
working for almost a year in a lab at Simpson University. He had been
planning on entering a Ph.D. program until several months ago when a
change of heart led him to begin applying to medical school. His
first choice for medical school is Weston University School of
Medicine across town, which would afford him and his wife minimum
disruption of their lives. Anticipating this future development he
applied for a job in a lab at Weston working for a former professor
of his, Dr. Larry Hamilton. His former professor is engaged in work
very similar to that of his current lab, and is someone to whom he
feels greatly indebted for years of mentorship and counsel. Dr.
Hamilton has also indicated a willingness to write Tom a
recommendation for his application package, a recommendation that Tom
is sure will be weighty and influential when considered by Weston's
During a recent meeting when Tom discussed job prospects with Dr.
Hamilton, Tom described many aspects of his ongoing work because he
believed it would make him appear qualified for the new position. As
the conversation progressed, Tom began to realize that Dr. Hamilton's
area of research was so similar to that of Tom's current boss, that
in fact Dr. Hamilton could be considered a competitor. Dr. Hamilton's
questions became increasingly oriented to getting Tom to describe the
research methods used, and the results obtained by his current lab,
questions about which Tom grew uncomfortable.
- Should Tom be uncomfortable with this situation? Why?
- Should the information that Tom is being asked to reveal be
considered proprietary? Why or why not?
- Why might it be difficult for Tom simply to indicate that he
would rather not discuss his current employer's work in any more
- Discuss the appropriateness of Dr. Hamilton's behavior.
- Once employed in Dr. Hamilton's lab, should Tom feel any
differently about revealing the specific research methods used by
his former employer? What about his former employer's preliminary
- Is it necessary to think of Dr. Hamilton as a competitor of
Tom's boss? How might Tom facilitate a positive outcome, given the
similarity in the research of these two individuals?