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 admissions committee.

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.


  1. Should Tom be uncomfortable with this situation? Why?
  2. Should the information that Tom is being asked to reveal be considered proprietary? Why or why not?
  3. Why might it be difficult for Tom simply to indicate that he would rather not discuss his current employer's work in any more depth?
  4. Discuss the appropriateness of Dr. Hamilton's behavior.
  5. 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 research results?
  6. 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?


School of Graduate Studies

230 Elizabeth Ave, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1B 3X9

Postal Address: P.O. Box 4200, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1C 5S7

Tel: (709) 864-8000