Use of Confidential or Proprietary Information - Case D3

While quietly sipping a soda and looking over the landscape at his departmental retreat, Professor Aaron Chen inadvertently focuses in on the conversation at the next bench. Joe, a young faculty member, is talking to his graduate student, Yolanda.

Joe I know that reviewing papers for publication is part of our job, but this steady influx is exhausting me. The only saving grace is that I get to learn about some pretty exciting science.

Yolanda That's a pretty desirable burden compared with what I have to put up with as a teaching assistant. At least you get to learn something in the process. Come across anything particularly interesting?

Joe Well, since we don't work in this immediate area, I guess it's okay to talk about it. There's a report of a new cellular transcription factor that plays a powerful role in expression in virus-infected cells. It's been messing up everyone's in-vitro transcription systems. It's easy to purify because it binds to the DNA binding region of the estrogen receptor and can be affinity-purified from columns containing that region specifically. The paper is well written and I am recommending publication with only minor corrections so it should be out soon.

Yolanda Fascinating! I can't wait until I see that in print.

Prof. Chen has been having great difficulty carrying out in vitro transcription with DNA from virus infected cells and has been wondering where to turn next. The overheard remark is like a gift from heaven. He then unexpectedly runs into his graduate student Paul Louden.

Prof. Chen Paul, have you been thinking how to get our in vitro transcription process to work better? Maybe the viruses induce new cellular transcription factors that are not present in normal cells.

Paul That's a great idea. We've been looking for technical problems for much too long. Why don't we try to find out.

Prof. Chen Let me tell you about what I overheard. I think we could get this project done in time to submit it just about when the other group publishes their finding. It surely makes science more efficient for us to get on the right track, and our study will validate their result if we can confirm its validity in our system.


  1. How would you assess the behavior of the following individuals in this case (where appropriate, explain what was troublesome or unethical about the behavior of the individual identified):
    1. Yolanda?
    2. Joe?
    3. Professor Chen?
    4. Paul?
  2. If you were an author of the paper under discussion, with whom would you be upset?
  3. How should Professor Chen have reacted to Joe's conversation with Yolanda?
  4. What is an appropriate way for Joe to respond when he learns that Professor Chen has overheard and acted on the information that Joe and Yolanda exchanged informally? If Yolanda were to learn of Professor Chen's actions, how might she respond?


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