A lone researcher struggling to answer the "big question" in his or her discipline tends to be the exception in academia these days. Researchers in many fields prefer to work with others in and out of their areas, in order to obtain complementary expertise, save time, or decrease expenses. Other investigators enjoy collaborations with researchers in differing subjects as a way of finding innovative approaches to solving problems. Private and federal funding sources encourage collaborative and multidisciplinary projects. Also, federal law, such as the Bayh-Dole Act, promotes the commercialization of patentable technologies developed at universities, thus allowing relationships between academia and industry to grow. Although collaborative and multidisciplinary research is flourishing, problems do arise, and several factors must be considered:
- Difference in Style of Investigators - Shared grants, data, and materials require more formal written agreements involving grants-and-contracts offices at their respective universities.
- Difference in Style of Research Across and Within Disciplines
- Differences Between Academic and Industrial Research with Respect to Sharing of Data and Results - Each party has to come to an agreement about how data and materials will be shared. Most institutions do not permit any sponsor hindrance or delay of publication in research collaborations with industry. Other universities are willing to forgo the freedom in exchange for funding, access to industrial ideas, and opportunities to train students in commercial types of research endeavors.
- Ethical Considerations May Affect Research Across Institutions - for example, differences in the nature of disclosing potential conflicts of interest, or differences in the standard of treatment for research subjects.
Six key components of a successful collaboration are:
- Communication - In establishing, maintaining, and even terminating a collaboration, communication is important for the project to continue.
- Discussing in advance who will do what in a project, while understanding that the research may evolve. Define goals, including who will take charge, addressing the potential impact on participants if the project changes direction, and defining when a collaboration is considered to be over or terminated.
- Discussing authorship in advance.
- Discussing data and material management in advance - How such a question is resolved affects the ability of the laboratories to replicate work and to perform independent work at the end of a collaboration. The issue of who owns data is governed by the type and source of funds used to support research. The NIH and the NSF allow grantee institutions to own data, a regulation with implications for research done by collaborators off-site. Investigators and institutions also have rules for the custody and retention of data, to which all parties must adhere. Also, the transfer of materials among collaborators is subject to so-called "material transfer agreements," or MTAs, developed by administration offices. They include:
- Limits on the use of the material, usually for non-commercial research purposes.
- Prohibitions on the redistribution of the material.
- Conditions of use, including prohibitions of use in animals or humans.
- Conditions for publication, usually with provisions that the manuscript must be seen by the donor before submission for publication.
- A hold-harmless cause, meaning that the donor has no liability resulting from the use of the material.
- The issue of the return of unused materials.
- Discussing intellectual property issues in advance - All parties should know institutional and granting-agency policies regarding intellectual property and patent procedures.
- Managing accountability - Each institution must abide by certain regulations, policies, and laws. Researchers working with animals, humans, or hazardous substances must conform to the appropriate regulations, policies, and laws. Researchers also need to inform one another of any potential conflict of interest that they might have in the project.
UT Arlington Resources for Collaborations Include:
The Office of Technology Management
OTM is responsible for identifying and patenting new inventions and copyright materials, including software. The office helps inventors develop the necessary documentation for patents and other kinds of protection. Although theUniversity owns the intellectual property, the technology-transfer office works with investigators to develop the best possible deal to benefit the University and the inventor, as both may receive licensing revenues. Personnel in OTM also interact with industry representatives to set up collaborative research agreements, to inform them of new inventions, and to negotiate license agreements. OTM also advises venture-capital groups of new inventions and facilitates the start-up of new companies. OTM will provide guidance about how researchers can protect their inventions. If results of research are made public without first being protected -- with a confidentiality agreement, materials-transfer agreement, or patent application -- the monetary value of the invention will be substantially reduced.
The Office of Grant and Contract Services
Grants-and-contracts offices are permitted to submit sponsored project proposals to all agencies (whether governmental or private) and to negotiate and accept awards based on these proposals. The grants office negotiates grants with industry, except for the intellectual-property clauses, which are managed by the technology-transfer office.
- If a researcher enters a collaboration with a researcher in another department while a grant is ongoing, they generally do not have to formalize the relationship through the grants office.
- If, however, an investigator with an ongoing grant enters into a collaboration with a researcher at another institution and money is involved in the transaction, a subcontract is written and managed by the grants and contracts office.
- If collaborators within an institution apply for a grant together, they are both included in the personnel section of the grant.
- If collaborators from different institutions apply together for a grant, a decision about who will be the prime institution and who will be the secondary institution, obtaining a subcontract, has to be made. Material-transfer and intellectual-property agreements also come into play.