According to the complaint, Andrew Mallon and John Marshall co-founded a company, Ardane Therapeutic, to commercialize a potential therapy that Mallon discovered for Angelman Sydrome, a developmental disorder characterized by cognitive impairment and autism.
In 2011, the two, along with several other members of Marshall’s lab at Brown University, wrote and submitted a paper to Neuron (listing Mallon as the first author), which was not accepted. Shortly after submission, “Mallon and Marshall had a falling out,” the complaint says — specifically, they “disagreed about how Ardane should be operated and about the required standards of legal and ethical conduct.” Mallon left the lab and founded his own company, Calista Therapeutics.
In 2013, Marshall and his team published a paper in PLoS Biology, “Impairment of TrkB-PSD-95 Signaling in Angelman Syndrome,” that had some passages taken almost verbatim from the Neuron submission, the complaint says, but Mallon was not included as an author. According to the lawsuit:
Dr. Marshall decided not to list Dr. Mallon as an author on the PLOS Biology Paper in an attempt to gain a competitive advantage for himself and his company Angelus at the expense of Dr. Mallon.
Mallon filed suit in the United States District Court of Massachusetts, against both Marshall and Marshall’s research partner Dennis Goebel.
Marshall’s lawyer filed a motion to dismiss, on the grounds that co-authors of jointly written papers aren’t covered under copyright law. The motion was dismissed. We spoke briefly with the lawyer, Kevin Tottis:
We filed a motion to dismiss saying even if everything he said is true, he still wouldn’t have a claim. The judge ruled on the motion to dismiss but he didn’t answer some questions that were raised, so we filed a motion to reconsider and for clarification.
Part of what Dr. Mallon is asking for is to have his name put on the paper, and as we say in our court paper, under copyright law there’s no right to attribution except in cases of digital art…I’m not going to litigate issues in this case through the press or any blog. If you read our motions you’ll understand no one is disputing authorship of the Neuron paper. Joint authorship means anybody has the right to then take the work and use it in subsequent work.
According to the “Facts” section of the judge’s denial of the motion to dismiss:
Defendants Marshall and Goebel made additional changes and revisions to the paper, however, the core of the paper remained Plaintiff’s work related to CN 2097…Defendants now move to dismiss Plaintiff’s claim, arguing that Plaintiff has not created copyrightable work, that he has no rights of attribution under the Copyright Act, that he is not a joint author of the PLOS Biology Paper, that his copyright is assigned to Brown as a work for hire, and that the case should be dismissed because Plaintiff has not registered a copyright. Plaintiff opposes the motion and contends that his work on the CN 2097 draft was indeed independent copyrightable expression and that he is co-author of the PLOS Biology paper within the meaning of 17 U.S.C.
Mallon’s lawsuit suggests that the lack of authorship was retribution for Mallon’s “cooperation with authorities into the actions of Drs. Marshall and” Cong Cao, another former researcher at Marshall’s lab, who according to the lawsuit is no longer working in the lab. The lawsuit doesn’t go into many details, but does say Mallon “detected fabrication and falsification of data” by Cao, and “Dr. Marshall excluded Dr. Mallon from submission of the PLOS Biology Paper so he would not insist on proper standards of integrity of the data.”
Cao has had at least one retraction, in the Journal of Biological Chemistry for a reused image. PubPeer commenters also tapped some possibly duplicated images. Here’s the notice for “AMP-activated protein kinase contributes to UV- and H2O2-induced apoptosis in human skin keratinocytes”:
This article has been withdrawn at the request of the authors.
Reason: To demonstrate that the activation of AMPK is mediated by EGFR activation, the authors included data in Fig. 2 (A, G, and H) that had been used in a previous publication. After publication of the above article, the authors were made aware of this and are therefore withdrawing this paper. Despite these errors, the authors stand by the reproducibility of the experimental data and the conclusion.
The PLOS Biology paper, which has been cited 17 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge, was subject to two corrections. First, a month after publication, a grant was added:
The following information was missing from the Funding section: This study was supported by a Postdoctoral Award (#11POST5820019) from the American Heart Association (R.T.).
JM wishes to declare the following competing interest, which should have been indicated in the research article. JM owned shares in Angelus Therapeutics. However, for clarification, no materials or support were received from this company, and no agreements were in place concerning the execution or publication of this work. In addition, a US patent application entitled “Long term potentiation with cyclic-GluR6 analogs” (US Patent Application #20120149646) has been filed by Brown University, with JM listed as co-inventor.
That patent lists two inventors – Mallon and Marshall.
We were forwarded emails between PLoS Biology and Brown University, in which a representative of Brown says it had conducted an investigation of misconduct regarding the paper, and concluded that no misconduct had taken place.
We’ve reached out to Mallon, Marshall, Goebel, and PLoS. Mallon declined to comment due to ongoing litigation; Marshall directed us to his lawyer, who is on vacation.
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