I came across a case where a Doctor A found a new medical score calculation which was used by another Doctor B with no permission.

Let's try to explain the situation (EDIT+++) :

  • Doctor A published a scientific article in which he describes how to calculate the score
  • Doctor B contacts Doctor B and ask him whether he could translate his score and use it
  • Doctor A answers that it is copyrighted but for this time it is OK
  • Doctor B translates it and publishes the translation, but did not acknowledge Doctor A.
  • a lot of doctors used the score and everyone recieved a complain from Doctor A about the copyright

I couldn't read the article Doctor B published but I assume he calculated the score for some of his patients and outputed some results in some study (cannot think about something else to happen).

I'd think even if the name of the score can be copyrighted (under a trademark ?), the calculation of the score itself could be assimilated to an algorythm and then not be licenceable under a copyright.

As it is not something material, I assume a score is not patentable either (and even so, it is published and not patented).

What Dr B did is bad and he should feel bad, but since I'm not sure such an algorithm is copyrightable, is this really illegal ?

NB : I'm a medical student, not a law student, but this case could have a non-neglectable effect if provent true.

NB for non medics : a medical score is a little calculus that help you grade the severity of a condition. Let's say you take red cells, multiply by the age and add the wheight, and depending on the result you have a nice/bad/very bad cancer. The doctor can then adapt the treatment on the score.

  • Presumably the case is that someone used this algorithm without permission: that would not be the subject matter of copyright. It could be connected to violation of a license condition if this involves software. If A published a number (the score) and B copies that number, the number itself is not copyrightable. So we could use more details about what actually happened.
    – user6726
    Mar 8, 2017 at 16:05
  • No, there is no software involved in this case. I added some details. Mar 8, 2017 at 16:14
  • trade secrets can cover an algorithm if its not published. Patents might be able to cover a published algorithm.
    – user4460
    Mar 8, 2017 at 16:48
  • 1
    I work in healthcare and there are lots of scales and catalogs that are under copyright and for which you have to pay fees in order to use them. For example the DSM appi.org/permissions or SNOMED snomed.org/snomed-ct/get-snomed-ct
    – SJuan76
    Mar 8, 2017 at 18:36
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    Actually, Dr A published his algorithm in a scientific paper, so it is not really a trade secret. Dr B just translate it and used it without Dr A consent. The question is about whether this consent was needed or not. I'll clarify the post. Mar 15, 2017 at 17:48

1 Answer 1


Based on added comments from the OP, the situation seems to be that Dr. A published a certain algorithm; Dr. B then published a translation, without consent. The question is whether the algorithm is subject to copyright protection: if it is, that means that Dr. A has to authorize a derivative work (a translation is a derivative work). An underlying equation (viz. .25*A + .25*B + .5*(A\B)) is not subject to copyright protection. A verbal description of how to compute the score, or of the meaning of variables, or of how to present questions via a program so that values of A, B.... are supplied would be subject to protection. The essential distinction is that copyright law (as opposed to patent) protects the expression, especially aspects of visual presentation and wording. The requirement is that a work which manifests expressive creativity (it need not be a high level of creativity) is protectable. That would include any unauthorized translation of Dr. A's article. If the algorithm is patented, patent (not copyright) issues would arise, but in normal usage you can't "translate" an algorithm from one language to another.

There is an issue of whether permission was received. If A says to B "Yes you may" then unless there is evidence of such permission (an email for example), B may be in trouble. Assuming evidence of permission, then we have to know if the permission was conditional, i.e. "Yes, as long as you cite me". Without such a condition, A can't late retract his permission.

  • While the original question is incredibly confusing, this answer also leaves a little confusion. It sounds like this question encompasses both (1) a formula, and (2) an exposition. You note that translating an exposition is a derivative of that text, and therefore requires permission from the owner of the original text's copyright. But you also note that a mathematical formula cannot be protected by copyright. So if the formula was copied, and then someone authored an independent exposition of that formula, no copyright infringement has occurred.
    – feetwet
    Mar 15, 2017 at 20:06

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