Drug company lawyer letter results in “utterly tedious” retraction

Image via Intropen
Image via Intropen

What’s in a name?

Well, if it’s the same name as a treatment with nearly $1 billion in sales per year in the U.S., a retraction.

A “mind numbingly boring one,” that is.

Here’s the Twin Research and Human Genetics notice for “EpiPen: An R Package to Investigate Two-Locus Epistatic Models”:

The paper ‘EpiPen: An R Package to Investigate Two-Locus Epistatic Models’ has been retracted at the authors’ request in light of their decision to change the name of their research software to Epi2loc to avoid confusion with the EpiPen Trademarks owned by Mylan Inc. The authors plan to republish the article under a different title in a forthcoming issue and apologize for any inconvenience caused.

A research group at Notre Dame developed software to help process genetic data, and published the paper in March 2014.

Unfortunately, they called their program EpiPen, which is also the name of a trademarked portable epinephrine treatment carried by people with severe allergies. When a lawyer letter arrived from Mylan, Inc., which owns the name, the team decided to change the name to Epi2loc. They approached Cambridge University Press, who publishes Twin Research and Human Genetics, but were told that the only way to update the record would be to fully retract the paper and republish. The new paper can be found here.

Journal editor Nick Martin filled us in:

I believe that after the paper was in press the authors found that another group had used the name “EpiPen” in a quite different context, and the only mechanism [Cambridge University Press could] offer to kill that name and substitute another was a formal retraction and a new publication with the revised name. had nothing to do with the originality of the work – just the “branding”. Utterly tedious.

We asked him if there was anything else he thought we should know, and he took the words right out of our mouths:

That’s all as far as I can recall. Mind numbingly boring actually.

Author Gitta Lubke had a few more details:

We originally used the acronym epipen for the R package that we describe in the paper, but got a letter from the lawyer of a company that apparently has copyright on that term. So we had to change the name of the R package (which appears in the title of the paper), and the only way to do this was to retract the paper and submit the same paper with a changed title. The package is now called epi2loc, and the paper has been published by TRHG 17(4), p272-278.

2 thoughts on “Drug company lawyer letter results in “utterly tedious” retraction”

  1. The problem is not the name of the medication. Medical devices and computer programs are in separate trademark classes, and a trademark in one class does not prohibit anyone from using the same name in another class. The real problem is that Mylan Inc. recently published a mobile app under the same name and also obtained trademark protection for the class that covers computer programs.


    BTW: Interesting that the original paper got accepted one day after submission …

    1. The quick acceptance may be due to the paper being rejected by some other journal on basis of considerations not relating to the quality per se (e.g. “good paper, but scope to limited”). In that case, the editor of TRHG need only peruse the paper and the reviews to establish that the paper is suitable, and that additional reviews are unnecessary.

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