It will be interesting to see how this story plays out, but it would seem to be yet another cautionary tale that when you are a graduate student, you are in a position of incredible weakness. As is said, your advisor holds your paycheck in one hand and your letter of recommendation in the other. And in case you are naive, the chains don’t get unshackled just because you’ve graduated. You’re still going to need that letter of recommendation for future jobs, so if your old boss wants to take 50% of the royalties, what’s to stop him?
259. Dr. Myers was Dr. Charest’s PhD advisor.
260. Dr. Myers advised Dr. Charest and headed the lab in which he worked on the research that led to the Pioneering Tetracycline Patents.
261. Dr. Myers had a fiduciary duty to Dr. Charest.
262. Dr. Myers breached his fiduciary duty to Dr. Charest by using his position as a fiduciary to secure more royalties for himself to the detriment of Dr. Charest.
Typically, a fiduciary prudently takes care of money for another person. One party, for example a corporate trust company or the trust department of a bank, acts in a fiduciary capacity to the other one, who for example has funds entrusted to it for investment. In a fiduciary relationship, one person, in a position of vulnerability, justifiably vests confidence, good faith, reliance and trust in another whose aid, advice or protection is sought in some matter. In such a relation good conscience requires the fiduciary to act at all times for the sole benefit and interest of the one who trusts.
...From 1983 to 1996, Chou was a doctoral student and subsequently a post-doctoral research assistant at the University of Chicago’s Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology. Roizman acted as chairman of this department and as Chou’s advisor. [snip]
This dispute commenced in February of 1991, when Chou allegedly suggested to Roizman that her discoveries should be patented and he opposed the idea. At the time the discussion occurred, however, Roizman had already filed a patent application for the inventions, listing himself as the sole inventor. In 1996, Roizman asked Chou to resign, and told her if she did not resign, he would fire her.
...The appellate court upheld Chou’s claim against Roizman for breach of fiduciary duty, recognizing that “a fiduciary relationship may . . . arise from the special circumstances of the parties’ relationship, such as when one party justifiably places trust in another so that the latter gains superiority and influence over the former.” The rapport between Chou and Roizman suggests a fiduciary relationship between the two parties. For thirteen years, Roizman was Chou’s supervisor in the laboratory as well as her educational advisor. A long-term supervisory relationship such as this, especially during the initial development of a student’s career, should indicate a fiduciary duty on the part of the supervising professor. Further, the court specifically found certain factors present in the relationship indicating Roizman’s fiduciary duty to Chou. Specifically, the court determined that there was a disparity in the two parties’ experience and roles and that Roizman had the power to make decisions regarding the patenting of Chou’s inventions.Well, that was a bit of information that I was not aware of while in graduate school! I believed (and still do) that my adviser had, within reason, my best interests in mind. I did not extend that to the fair division of a crapton of money, which is the realm of the relevant Charest/Myers case (Tetraphase's initial funding was for $25 million.) Money unleashes people's greed -- and it always has. In this sense, this case is sad, but not surprising.
While I would really be interested to see documents from the discovery phase, or how a trial court or a trial jury might react to the very imbalanced relationship between adviser and student, I don't really expect anything to come out of this case, other than a quiet settlement. Readers, what do you think?