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How to handle a dispute regarding ownership of biological samples?

Researcher A collected (under the PI Researcher B and funded by two universities' research centers X and Y) insect samples by herself and other members 10 years ago and preserved in them formaldehyde. 10 years later, Researcher A provided to post doc Researcher C only the samples (not any data) to work on it. Researcher C get interesting results but Researcher A and PI B refuse (conflict of interest or any other personal reasons) to give any authorization or any approval to allow Researcher C to publish the results (Only Researcher C would be the unique author of the research). I would like to know who owns the samples? Does Researcher C need approval for publishing tofrom Researcher A and/or Researcher B and/or the research centers (X and /or Y)? Or is no approval needed as samples were already given by Researcher A, and it is assumed by Researcher B that since A has already given the samples, they can be used for publication? Many thanks for your reply!!

This is a rather tricky situation, and it is difficult to give a clear answer without knowing who actually owns the samples and whether Researcher A has the authority to give the samples to Researcher C. I think the problem is between Researcher A and Researcher B. If Researcher A does not have the authority to give the samples to Researcher C, then Researcher A might land up in trouble. 

However, as far as Researcher C is concerned, if she has evidence that the samples were given to her by Researcher A, I don't think she needs any permission or authorization by Researcher A or B to publish her research. However, she should acknowledge that Researcher A has helped her by providing the samples. In fact, it might be a good idea to acknowledge both Researcher A and B and the Research Centers X and Y. A few sentences saying that the samples for the study were provided by them in the acknowledgments section would suffice for that.

The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) has provided a set of guidelines meant to help researchers decide whether a contributor qualifies to be an author or should be just be included in the acknowledgements section of a manuscript. According to these guidelines, "Those whose contributions do not justify authorship may be acknowledged individually or together as a group under a single heading (e.g. "Clinical Investigators" or "Participating Investigators"), and their contributions should be specified (e.g., "served as scientific advisors," "critically reviewed the study proposal," "collected data," "provided and cared for study patients", "participated in writing or technical editing of the manuscript")."

Related reading:

Foul play in scientific publishing: The phenomenon of academic papers being held hostage


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