A paper was submitted which described the outcomes of a clinical trial evaluating a particular device. The device was claimed to represent a placebo version of an active device intervention. The paper was reviewed fairly critically and one reviewer pointed out that from the reference list it did not seem that the authors had developed this type of placebo device, while the title of their paper suggested that they had. We invited the authors to respond, asking them to address this and other criticisms. The revised paper was then evaluated inhouse and by the academic editor, who commented that the authors still claimed development of the device in the revised paper, citing their US patent. However, the academic editor had previously published work suggesting that his team had developed a similar device before the patent was given (however, the academic editor had not contested this legally at the time). An inhouse editor compared the patent with the previously published papers and the devices did seem very similar.
Before we could write back to the authors with our decision, the corresponding author chose to withdraw the paper for unrelated reasons.
We think that the author will want to publish the paper elsewhere, but wonder what our obligations are as regards to following up the claims regarding who developed the device?
The general consensus of the Forum was that this was a patent issue between the authors and the academic institution. Although it is conceivable that two individuals could have come up with the same idea, the advice was that the journal should not get involved. The view of the Forum was that the editor should not pursue this issue further.