Research Policy Handbook


Research Participation Agreements

Policy Authority

Senate of the Academic Council

Policy Contact

Now in Policy Details

Defines policy for the establishment of agreements to make Stanford personnel, academic facilities, and/or laboratory equipment available to non-Stanford entities. Defines necessary criteria and approvals for such agreements.

1. Background and Purpose

A Stanford policy titled Preparation, Review, and Submission of Sponsored Project Proposals, dated June 21, 1979, discouraged Research Participation Agreements between Stanford and private companies (and other third parties). Since then, U.S. industries are increasingly acting as partners and collaborators with university researchers. The exchange of ideas and research techniques between the private and non-profit sectors has proven mutually beneficial and has resulted in many important scientific developments. Many of the academic research facilities at Stanford are unique in their combined expertise and instrumentation, and could be used on an incidental basis to assist industries in ways that are consistent with the primary teaching, research, and public service missions of the University. Therefore, this policy, which supersedes the clause on Research Participation Agreements in the 1979 policy on sponsored projects proposals, permits, and sets the conditions for occasional use of Stanford research capabilities for outside purposes in ways consistent with Stanford's primary missions. It was approved by the Faculty Senate on January 25, 1996.

2. Definitions

Research Participation Agreement (RPA) is a form of sponsored project in which services of Stanford personnel, academic facilities, and/or laboratory equipment are employed on behalf of parties not otherwise affiliated with the University as faculty, staff, or students. Faculty relationship to the project may range from the degree of oversight required by the Policy Statement below through the full intellectual involvement characteristic of PIship, except that the project requirements may be established in detail by the sponsor. Work on the project will normally be conducted by Stanford personnel. Occasionally, personnel supplied by the contracting party will be permitted to work directly on the project at Stanford, but in those cases additional requirements may be part of the RPA to assure proper use of equipment, compliance with University policies, and protection of the University from liabilities resulting from matters such as negligence on the part of the unaffiliated party. An RPA is different from other forms of sponsored research projects in that a significant portion of the responsibility for the intellectual direction, interpretation, and/or outcome of the work rests with the outside user.

3. Policy Statement

Stanford University places a high value on facilitating the transfer of technology from its research laboratories to the private sector where it can be applied in ways that will benefit the general population. For this reason, the University would like to foster cooperation and collaboration with entities such as other Universities, research institutes, government laboratories, and private sector partners. One way of doing this is to make unique University research expertise and facilities available for research purposes of those other entities. Such efforts must not compromise research priorities of the faculty of the University who have developed and who maintain these facilities. However, because of the highly specialized nature of Stanford's expertise and facilities, there is occasionally sufficient time and capacity available to assist the research endeavors of other universities, research organizations, or companies. When that situation occurs, Stanford's academic departments, schools, and laboratories may enter into RPAs to make certain research resources available to outside users if all of the following criteria are met, and with relevant administrative reviews as noted below:

  • The resource -- that is, the combination of instrumentation and expertise -- is unique in the area in the case of RPAs with local entities, or is not easily available in the case of such agreements with entities that are not local. In general, the RPA should not put Stanford in competition with entities that can provide the resource commercially.
  • The work to be performed under the RPA is related to the academic missions of the department, school, or laboratory, and is performed for research or testing purposes only, not for production or manufacturing for sale. The analysis of techniques or processes related to production or manufacturing in general is acceptable.
  • A Stanford faculty member who has oversight responsibilities for the University laboratory, center, or facility involved approves the work to be performed under the RPA, and a Stanford faculty member familiar with the facility undertakes to oversee the work, assumes financial control of the project, and assures that the project complies at all times with relevant University policies and requirements of outside regulatory agencies. The RPA must not interfere with the education of Stanford students.
  • The activities performed under the RPA comply with the terms of Stanford's Openness in Research policy.
  • The party for whom the work is being done agrees that any potentially patentable invention conceived or first reduced to practice in the course of the work on the project shall be disclosed to the University on a timely basis. Title to any such inventions shall:
    • belong solely to the outside entity if created solely by personnel of that entity
    • be assigned to the outside entity and Stanford jointly if created by personnel of both
    • be assigned to Stanford if created solely by Stanford personnel.

The outside entity shall in the second and third cases be entitled to a license, the terms of which are to be negotiated, and in the first case, Stanford will have shop rights.

  • The RPA will not interfere with the work done for Stanford users, who must be given first priority;
  • Such activities will only constitute an incidental amount of the total activity within the laboratory/center in any given year; such determination will be made by the school dean during the approval process.
  • No restrictions against the proposed use have been imposed by external sources which funded the building, instrumentation, or capital equipment involved.

Payments received for work for outside parties must cover the full costs of the service and the outside parties must be charged at rates at least as high as those charged to internal users and other forms of sponsored projects. Indirect costs at the University's on-campus Organized Research rate will be applied. (Any exceptions to the use of this rate must be approved in advance in writing by the Dean of Research).

4. Approval Process

The PI, laboratory or center director proposing to make the services of his or her laboratory or center available for outside use shall request approval from the cognizant department chair and dean in writing. The proposal must be accompanied by a RPA Proposal Routing Form available from the Office of Sponsored Research (OSR). If it is anticipated that the expertise or facility will be used on a recurring basis for RPAs, the PI, laboratory or center director may request a blanket approval to provide a class of services through RPAs without the need to request approval from the chair and dean for each individual arrangement. Whether the proposal is for a single RPA or for blanket approval for multiple RPAs, the chair and dean will respond in writing to the request, with copies of their approvals sent to OSR. [Note: These routing sheets are provided as pdf files in "Related Items" below.]

After approval by the chair and dean is obtained, the responsible faculty member shall submit the proposal to the OSR, which will:

  • consult with the University Accounting Officer to establish and approve the accounting mechanisms and unit costs to be charged to the outside users, and to determine if the income from the RPA will be subject to sales tax. (If sales tax is determined necessary by the Accounting Officer, the host department or laboratory must calculate and charge such tax to the outside user.)
  • consult with the Director of Risk Management to assess issues of risk, liability, and insurance, and, if deemed necessary, create appropriate provisions in the RPA agreement
  • consult with the Cost and Management Office to assess any service center- or indirect cost-related implications

OSR will confirm in writing the approved accounting arrangements, sales tax requirements, and insurance/indemnification requirements to the responsible faculty member and appropriate administrators.

Note: Most RPAs complying with the criteria listed above will not create unrelated business income tax requirements for the University. However, if the Accounting Officer determines that the activities may create unrelated business income (UBI), which is taxable to the University, he or she will seek the Provost's approval before the activity may be undertaken. In such cases, the UBI tax will be deducted from the income received by the host department.

5. Procedure after Blanket Approval Has Been Established

After the required approvals have been granted by the chair and dean, and OSR has approved the RPA instrument and administrative procedures, the responsible faculty member may enter into RPAs by preparing a short description of each such arrangement and sending it through the usual sponsored project proposal routing process, accompanied by a RPA Proposal Routing Sheet available from the Office of Sponsored Research.

6. Conflict of Interest

Stanford personnel must comply with applicable University policies on conflicts of interest. For example, if any of the Stanford personnel or members of their immediate families have consulting arrangements or personal financial interests in the outside entity executing a RPA, full disclosure of the arrangements must be made to the school dean, who must approve each such arrangement before the RPA may be undertaken.

7. Applicability

This policy applies only to certain services to be performed by academic centers, departments, or laboratories for purposes that are to be undertaken on behalf of companies and organizations external to Stanford. It does not affect the normal research collaborations between Stanford researchers and colleagues from other institutions including industries.

This policy comes under the authority of Stanford's Academic Council. The Committee on Research will review this policy no later than every five years after its original approval by the Senate of the Academic Council, and once every five years thereafter, unless a more immediate need for review arises. The Dean of Research has oversight responsibility for interpreting this policy and granting exceptions to it. The Internal Audit Department is responsible for periodically reviewing compliance with the provisions of this policy.