Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The scope of COPE

The Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice (JIPLP) belongs to COPE -- the Committee on Publication Ethics, which gives guidance on many sensitive issues regarding the relationship between a journal's publishers, contributors, peer reviewers, readers and the public at large.  From time to time, COPE is concerned with issues that have an intellectual property dimension to them, the most obvious of which are plagiarism and failure to acknowledge authorial contributions.

JIPLP reproduces below a case report which reflects the typical scope of COPE's role in identifying, resolving (if possible) and promulgating issues for the wider benefit of the publishing community, its users and consumers:
ANONYMISED TEXT OF THE CASE:  
A director of an institute in France has expressed concern about a paper published in our journal. One of the authors (not the corresponding author) of the paper, person A, visited his laboratory in France for 5 months in 2009 to carry out some work. The director says that some methods used and results obtained in his laboratory have now been included in the paper without his knowledge or permission. Researchers from another institute in a different country are co-authors of the paper, and the corresponding author is someone from that institute. The director in France acknowledges that the experiments could have been repeated in conjunction with this other group, but says that it is not very ethical to work in this way. 
I would be grateful for any advice on how to proceed in this matter. We have replied saying that we would contact COPE for advice. 
In 2010, the editor-in-chief of another journal contacted the French group about a paper submitted by person A which included several members of the French laboratory as co-authors without their knowledge and permission. That editor-in-chief was concerned about apparent falsification of data by manipulation of a gel photo, which the French group were able to confirm. They contacted person A and the departmental head but have had no response. 
ADVICE:  
The editor provided additional information that there was no formal contract between person A and the laboratory in France, and the director of the laboratory has replied that none of the data have been published previously. 
The advice from the Forum was to contact person A, relaying the concerns expressed by the French institute, and ask for an explanation. If there is no response or an unsatisfactory response from person A, then the editor may consider contacting person A’s institution and asking them to investigate the matter. In the meantime, the editor may like to publish an expression of concern if an investigation is ongoing. 
However, as the director acknowledges that the experiments could have been repeated elsewhere and if he cannot prove that the published results were actually produced in his laboratory, it may be difficult for the journal to pursue this further. Further advice was for the editor to encourage the French institute to take up the matter with person A and her current institute. Or the French institute could contact the corresponding author of the paper, and then he/she should then be responsible for putting together a response on behalf of all authors. If it turns out to be a simple matter of ‘scientific discourteousness’, a letter exchange would be a good way to publicly apologise. 
Regarding the second paper, involving the other journal and possible falsification of the data, this should probably be set aside for the moment, in the interests of giving person A the benefit of the doubt. It is the other journal’s responsibility to pursue this matter. 
RESOLUTION:  
On-going
So far as I can ascertain, only two IP journals are members of COPE, the other being the Journal of World Intellectual Property.  I do hope that others will soon follow.

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