Research Policy Handbook


Service Agreements

Now in Policy Details

This document sets policy and practice guidance to faculty who provide certain services to non-Stanford entities for projects that do not meet the definition of sponsored projects or gifts. It defines necessary criteria and requires approvals for such University agreements.

1. Background and Purpose

The policy and practice guidance sets forth the conditions for use of Stanford resources to provide services to outside parties when the arrangement does not meet the definition of a sponsored project and the intellectual direction and interpretation of the work are primarily controlled by the external party. Many academic resources at Stanford are unique in their combination of expertise and access to instrumentation.  These resources may be used to assist non-Stanford entities in ways that support the primary research, teaching, public service, and impact missions of the University through Service Agreements.  

This guidance is separate from the policy governing Stanford Service Centers. A Service Center is an organizational unit that provides services or products to users principally within the Stanford academic and administrative community.   

2. Definition

Stanford faculty may perform or oversee fee-for-service projects under a Service Agreement, in which the services of Stanford personnel, facilities, or equipment are employed by parties not affiliated with the University. These services are conducted by Stanford personnel under the direction of a member of the academic council or medical center line faculty.  The services are procured by an outside entity for the delivery of specific activities or products with specific desired outcomes.  In many cases, the buyer is the sole beneficiary of the work being performed, may own the work product, and may require restriction of dissemination or publication of the results.  Stanford personnel execute the work at the buyer’s direction, even if the work being conducted is based on Stanford expertise, processes, or models. 

Most service agreements Stanford participates in are conducted for public benefit, and the scope of work being conducted aligns with the public service and community outreach missions of Stanford and the organization receiving the service.   Fee-for-service arrangements that do not align with public service or community outreach can be done only on a non-routine basis and only with approval of the Department Chair and cognizant School Dean’s Office.

A Service Agreement shall not be used if:

(i) Stanford is required to conduct significant interpretive analysis on data collected during the work and Stanford desires to own the results of the analysis.

(ii) Stanford Personnel must provide investigative scholarly contributions.

(iii) The work is primarily intended to result in new knowledge or intellectual property.

If any of the above conditions are met, the work falls under Stanford policies for conducting sponsored research.

3. Policy Statement

Stanford University places a high value on facilitating the transfer of expertise from its research and educational operations to outside entities in ways that benefit the public. For this reason, the University allows Service Agreements for projects that are related to community outreach, education, or services provided for public benefit. With this in mind, Stanford's faculty in academic departments, schools, and laboratories may provide services under Service Agreements when all the following criteria are met, along with relevant administrative, compliance, school and departmental review and approval:

  • A Stanford faculty member must be identified as the individual responsible for providing or overseeing the services performed, assuming financial responsibility for services provided, and for complying with applicable University policies and processes. 
  • The responsible faculty member must identify and charge the percentage of effort associated with the service directly to the service agreement.
  • The resource (the combination of expertise and instrumentation) must be unique or not easily otherwise available to the buyer. The service performed must not put Stanford in competition with commercial entities that can provide these resources or services.
  • The service must not interfere with the research, teaching, and clinical activities performed in Stanford facilities or with the education of Stanford students.
  • The work to be performed under the Service Agreement must not conflict with the research, teaching, impact, and public service missions of the university.
  • Since the activities performed under the Service Agreement fall outside the University’s sponsored project policies, Stanford’s research policies on publication and intellectual property do not apply. Service agreements are not intended for use if new knowledge or intellectual property will be created. 
  • Title to inventions resulting under a Service Agreement: 
    • may belong solely to the buyer if the invention is a modification or improvement of the buyer’s intellectual property or materials; and 
    • should be assigned to Stanford if related to techniques, processes, tools, or existing intellectual property belonging to Stanford.
  • Service agreements should constitute only an incidental amount of the total activity of a Stanford resource or lab at any given time, for a period of two years or less. 
  • In most cases, projects with human subjects and/or animal subjects will be sponsored projects. In the rare event that human or animal subjects are involved in a Service Agreement, the protocol director must be a faculty member who will be responsible for the direction of the service being provided, in keeping with Stanford University policy.
  • Students and postdoctoral trainees must not be involved in providing the services.
  • Service activity must not:
  • The service buyer must provide insurance coverage and indemnify the University for the work and its use of the work product.
  • Stanford does not warranty or guarantee the work product. 

The cost to the buyer must include the full costs of the service, including the university’s applicable non-sponsored receivables rate. Non-profit educational service providers who engage in public services will receive a reduced non-sponsored receivable rate at the rate of infrastructure charge for their service agreements. A blanket waiver is in place. Stanford may consider a request to reduce the non-sponsored receivables rate from other organizations conducting work for the purpose of public service and community outreach. For those agreements, the School must determine that a reduced rate is appropriate, and a waiver request must be submitted to and approved by the Dean’s Office (School of Medicine) or the Dean of Research (all other schools). 

Exceptions to the non-sponsored receivables rate will not be considered for:

  • a for-profit organization, whether US or international; or
  • an office or agency of a foreign government, including organizations funded by that government.

4. Approval Process

The faculty member proposing to enter into a Service Agreement must contact his or her Dean’s office representative for guidance on the process for school review and approval.  Approval from your school’s Dean’s office is required. Service agreements must be signed by the authorized signatories as designated by the school Dean’s office.  Your school Dean’s office may identify the need for review and approval from Risk Management to ensure the services being provided are protected under the University’s insurance coverage and will seek review from Global Business Services for services provided to foreign institutions, organizations, or companies.  The Office of Sponsored Research and the Office of the General Counsel may also be consulted for general guidance.

The faculty member providing the services will assume financial responsibility.  A record of the signed service agreement must be retained by the faculty member’s department and made available upon the request of auditors.