It is relevant to the patent reform debate. Patents, at the basic level, offer legal protection in return for disclosure. That is, if an "information discloser" provides information to the USPTO conforming to the requirements of patent law, the "information discloser" gets some legal protection. The "information discloser" is free to talk about his invention publicly, to make deals without fear that someone will steal his idea.
IPBiz notes that the "take it and make it your philosphy" is prevalent among business types. The Harvard Business Review in 2004 invited readers to "plagiarize with pride." [Harvard Business Review article: Plagiarize with Pride].
But when the academics see the issue occurring in an academic context, it is fully and harshly condemned.
To give some context, here are some words from theechemblog:
A more complicated instance involves a clever scientist named Donna Blackmond, who published research which extends well outside of my field in an area which, I get the feeling, she pioneered. She gave a lecture in Stockholm on findings she had recently submitted to Nature. Armando was in the audience, took notes and quickly unleashed his lab to perform a slew of sloppy experiments, haphazardly analyze the data and submit the stolen conclusion to a journal with a more rapid review process: Chemistry - A European Journal. He did not cite her work. Blackmond rightfully complained, an ethics review was commissioned and having found Armando violated ethical guidelines, he was forced to write a retraction in Chem. Eur. J. As it turns out, the article and the retraction were published in the same print journal. Armando’s evil doesn’t end there though. As he was in the process of being investigated for ethics violations and forced to write a retraction, he submitted a similar paper to Tet Let. A paper with a review process faster than a fart. You have to imagine the magnitude of this. He’s so unethical, that not even a commission devoted to forcing him to apologize detoured him from publishing the same shit he stole AGAIN.
IPBiz notes that in the law review business there are additional pathologies. If one can find something written down, one can refer to it and cite it, even if it's wrong. Thus, there have been a number of citations to the 90%+ "patent grant rate" of Quillen and Webster, even after the original authors modified there viewpoint in print. Thus, eBay used the false grant rate in a brief to the Supreme Court in 2006, years after the number had been modified. In 2005, within the Stanford Law Review, Lemley referred to Gary Boone as the inventor of the integrated circuit, and did not mention Noyce or Kilby. Lemley had earlier asserted that the inventors of the transistor foresaw uses only for hearing aids, based on a published interview with a professor at Stanford (who was not in the sciences).
“Science depends on openness: we expose our scientific findings, including the details of how they were obtained, to the scrutiny of the scientific community. This sounds like a prescription for chaos, but the result is the opposite because it reinforces the idea that science is conditional – always subject to being replaced by better information. This can be frustrating to non-scientists, who ask why science can’t make up its mind, but the alternative is dogma. Openness provides a mechanism for self-correction, setting science apart from other ways of knowing. Science is, in fact, the only way of knowing. Anything else is just religion, which is all about authority.
“So, science rejects authority. Anyone can play, including ‘outsiders.’ Perhaps the most fundamental of all natural laws, that of the conservation of energy, was first recognized in 1842, not by a physicist but by a doctor studying human metabolism. This law might yet be disproved, but of the half-dozen attempts to challenge it every year, some are merely foolish, most are fraudulent, and all have been wrong.”
But see earlier IPBiz post on scientific mafias.