Authors retract chemistry paper after failing to get company’s permission to publish

Two chemists who published a paper earlier this year in Bioconjugate Chemistry have withdrawn it, after their company, Life Technologies, let them know they didn’t have permission to submit the work. The retraction notice reads:

Facile Synthesis of Symmetric, Monofunctional Cyanine Dyes for Imaging Applications, by Lai-Qiang Ying and Bruce P. Branchaud, Bioconjugate Chem., 2011, 22 (5), pp 865–869, DOI: 10.1021/bc2001006, has been retracted at the request of the authors and Life Technologies. The article was submitted for publication without the approval of Life Technologies.

Where the paper had appeared previously — it’s been completely removed from the journal’s site, as opposed to being marked as “withdrawn” or “retracted” — this is all that’s left:

This paper was withdrawn on September 16, 2011 (DOI: 10.1021/bc200469q).

We tried contacting the paper’s two authors to find out more. Lai-Qiang Ying and Bruce P. Branchaud, an emeritus professor of chemistry at the University of Oregon, are both Life Technologies employees. Neither responded to our requests for comment.

Life Technologies, which was formed when Invitrogen and Applied Biosystems combined, is a big company: $3.6 billion in 2010 sales, according to its website.

We asked the journal for details, too. Susan King, senior vice president of the ACS’ publications division, responded on its behalf:

As the research reported was undertaken in the course of an employment relationship, copyright in the work was held by the employer. The article was retracted as  the consequence of having been submitted to Bioconjugate Chemistry without prior authorization by the employer of the authors, and was removed from the journal’s website at the subsequent request of the authors and as instructed by their employer. It is the prerogative of the investigators and the institution that employed them to determine whether to resubmit the work for publication at a later date. 

Bioconjugate Chemistry and ACS Publications adhere to the guidelines of professional publishing organizations, including the  International Association for Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers and the Committee on Publication Ethics when determining whether there is a basis to engage in the removal of an article upon its formal retraction. In addition, the American Chemical Society has promulgated ethical guidelines  and a Journals Publishing Agreement that that describe the responsibilities of all ACS authors and warranties that they must provide regarding material they submit for publication.  In this instance, as there was no authorized transfer of copyright to ACS, it was incumbent upon us to remove the article from our publications database.

9 thoughts on “Authors retract chemistry paper after failing to get company’s permission to publish”

  1. Perhaps some proprietary secrets were published, thereby cutting into a potential new market? After all, “imaging applications” are very fashionable, and a “facile synthesis” is often hard to come by….

  2. I believe that employment is not enough and the copyright consideration, although legitimate, is rather last straw for this removal. There had to be confidentiality agreement at the start, and this is quite legitimate, the company just missed it.

  3. WITHDRAWN: Ceramide kinase regulates the production of TNF{alpha} via inhibition of TNF{alpha}-converting enzyme
    Nadia F. Lamour, Dayanjan S. Wijesinghe, Jennifer A. Mietla, Katherine
    E. Ward, Robert V. Stahelin, and Charles E. Chalfant
    J. Biol. Chem. published 27 September 2011, 10.1074/jbc.M111.276048
    Did anyone see this?
    What exactly is the difference between a retraction and a withdrawal?

    1. We’ll look into this, but generally a withdrawal is the same as a retraction. In this case it appears the study was withdrawn before it was published in print, and journals sometimes insist on using “withdrawal” instead of retraction in those cases.

  4. For reasons that will be clear when you download the paper I suggest “The Scarlet Letter” as the title for your post when you find out more! This paper was of some interest to us so we’re curious about the reason for the withdrawal. The distinction between online and “print” publication seems rather arbitrary to me.

  5. They say withdrawal is when paper is removed (from e-edition).
    In retraction paper stays but is invalideted by the notice.
    I don’t think anything should be removed. This falsifies the record. But in this case, there was good reason to remove because the work was not supposed to be a publicly available science.

  6. I could not locate a publication policy on the website of Life Technologies. If the company did adhere to GPP2 (BMJ 2009), it would ensure its authorship agreements (with internal and external authors) provided authors with the freedom to publish the results, but also provided the sponsor with a reasonable time to protect its intellectual property.

    A number of commercial companies are now posting their publication policy on their website – a useful and practical thing to do in this era of transparency. Life Technologies may have been able to avoid this issue if their staff had been aware of and been trained on the company’s publication policy.

  7. The supplementary material with structures and ‘facile synthesis’ is still left on the journal website, is that a “premature retraction”

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