Sidebar: Sequence of Events

A $20 million federal civil suit filed by a biotechnology startup charges that a Columbia University researcher associated with the company breached his duties as a corporate official by helping to place complementary DNA (cDNA) libraries he developed into the public domain rather than with the firm. The case, which at press time had been scheduled for trial November 17, adds another chapter to the often-tumultuous saga of these genomic resources, which enable researchers to quickly locate specific genes. If the firm is completely successful in the lawsuit, it could tie up a crucial component of the worldwide human-genome sequencing effort.

The multimillion-dollar case underscores the vast scientific-and commercial-potential believed to be contained in these cDNA libraries. The suit also raises important questions about conflicting obligations for academic scientists who enter into relationships with the corporate world, say attorneys familiar with...

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