Ownership of an idea

Case number:

Case text (Anonymised)

A paper was submitted describing a novel technique for preparing tissue, which was noted immediately by a referee to be a modification of a method used by another researcher. The other researcher is thanked but is not included in the author list. The referee asks for advice as he feels that he is in a grey area of ownership of an idea and the degree of novelty needed to make it a “new” idea.  The referee knows the other researcher and requests permission to enquire whether or not he/she is aware of the new paper.


The committee felt that any correspondence from the reviewer to the other researcher should go through the editor, and it should be the editor’s decision whether or not to contact the researcher. The reviewer should not contact the researcher directly.

Follow up: 

Reviewer accepted suggestion and incorporated edited version of  comments into report. These have now been sent to authors based on two referee reports with rubric major changes based on the two reports.

Further update (April 2007)
The final decision was to reject and resubmit if major changes could be made, including anonymised comment about the existence of the other previous work in the referee reports (as it happens raised by at least two). No revised version has been received.