Commissioned in the year 2405, Starfleet began to receive a growing number of reports of a new class of vessel that was being used by a variety of races which included the Kobheerians, Galadorans, Barolians and the Coverians. It was initially believed that these type of ships were originally created by a private Cardassian corporation. The Cardassian Union frequently engaged in contracts with the Ferengi to handle both sales and distribution of their raw material and technology which led to an arrangments being formed that allowed the Cardassians to quickly gain profit through their efforts. However, the Ferengi salesman were very willing to provide covert technical specifications or even design schematics to anyone, for the right price.
As the different races had both copied and modified the original Type VII design, it meant that it was impossible for Starfleet to determine the exact specifications as well as the capabilities of any particular vessel of this class. What was known though was that these ships were often used for scientific duties rather than serve defensive or transportation based roles. As such, they were equipped with a limited number of weapons and upgrading the ship meant the sacrifice of power for sensors or the laboratories. However, this had not stopped some Captains from adding additional weaponry which meant that any vessel that approached a Type VII Commercial Laboratory was not to assume that they were ill equipped for battle.
The defensive capabilities of the craft were limited as they were not designed to withstand a sustained assault. Due to its role in the civilian and commercial fields, the commanders of a Type VII were typically more likely to run or send out a distress call rather than fight an opponent alone. However, a number of these starships were successfully retrofitted with multiphasic, paratrinic or even metaphasic shield emitters. A notable example of this feat was on Stardate 84072.55 when the USS Trieste recorded an incident when a number of Nausicaan raiders attacked the SS Trialas; a Type VII starship. The vessel which was registered out of Galador II managed to successfully evade its attackers by hiding in the corona of a star.
Despite its offensive and defensive capabilities, the strength of this class of starships was its scientific and commercial use. The standard sensor package of the craft was equivalent of a Nebula-class vessel and most were further modified by their crews in order to specialize in a specific area of research. Thus, many had astrometric laboratories whilst others were outfitted for specialized pods for zero gravity research or to help in the use as well as storage of hazardous materials. In addition to this, the Type VII also possessed an advanced deflector array that was capable of being reconfigured to amplify subspace frequencies, emit tachyon pulses or even fire gravitron and subnucleonic beams. Some crews were even known to make additional modifications to the deflector arrays.
In order to change or expand the modules of the ship, captains were required to make the changes at a commercial shipyards which allowed them to configure their craft in order to match what research they were conducting at any given time. Some captains outfitted their Type VIIs with multiple industrial replicators thus turning them into mobile factories whilst others changed them in order to fit stasis units or hazardous waste transports. Starfleet even recorded of at least one Type VII being modified with holoemitters allowing them to be used as a home for photonic lifeforms.
A recommendation made by Starfleet to captains who encounter a Type VII commercial laboratory was to perform a standard sensor sweep of the ship and attempt to learn of its capabilities as well as its uses. (Star Trek Online website: Ships of the Line)