The legal standard for determining due credit and shared rewards of discoveries has changed, according to a story published recently in Science .
A U.S. Appeals Court ruling in a University of Chicago case has lowered the barrier for court review of claims by postdoctoral students and junior faculty that they have been denied financial rewards from discoveries in which they have participated.
The ruling came in a case brought by a herpesvirus researcher and former postdoctoral student at the University of Chicago who claims she discovered a variant herpesvirus gene that may be useful in vaccine manufacturing. After her lab chief and mentor and the university filed for a patent on uses of the gene, she demanded to be named as an inventor and eventually sued the University of Chicago, the chief, and two spin-off corporations, seeking due credit and a share of profits. A federal judge dismissed the case last year without examining the question of who discovered what.
Overturning that ruling, the appeals court wrote that the postdoc "should have a right to assert her interest, both for her own benefits and in the public interest." It went on to suggest that an inventor seeking legal redress of this kind does not need to prove a direct financial stake. "After all," the judges said, "being considered an inventor ... is a mark of success in one's field, comparable to being an author of an important scientific paper." (The ruling Chou v. Univ. of Chicago et al. is available from the court's Web site.) The university has indicated it will not appeal the ruling, which means that the case can now go to trial.
The story Appeals Court Clears Way for Academic Suits was reported in Science , 20 July 2001, p. 411 and is available to those with a personal or institutional subscription to Science.