Frequently Asked Questions About Working with Business and Industry

Why is Virginia Tech interested in collaborative research?

It is to the benefit of the university, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and society to assure that new discoveries are further developed and made available for the general good of the public in the best way possible. The university helps solve problems and share information through its research activities. The university strives to increase research while maintaining academic standards and furthering educational programs. Working with government and private enterprise, the university seeks to participate in research and development projects that combine fields of knowledge to address complex, real-world problems. In many cases, further development of early stage intellectual property and commercialization through the industrial sector may be the best way to achieve the desired outcome.

What can Virginia Tech offer?

The university will use its internationally known faculty, a broad range of research facilities, and a track record of cooperation across disciplines and organizations to help business and public and private groups worldwide address complex problems and respond to opportunities. For more information about research at Virginia Tech, see the Office of the Vice President for Research.

Are there different types of collaboration?

Yes. You can participate as a member of an industrial affiliate group and obtain research results on problems common to your industry, or you may sponsor your own research project to address a problem specific to your personal business.

When would I join an industrial affiliate group?

Industrial affiliate groups are geared to address problems common to an industry and to enable active participation of industrial organizations in selecting and reviewing common research activities. The industrial affiliate program is designed to optimize the flow of information between the university and the industrial affiliates, expose personnel to each other, provide the affiliates with access to students as potential future employees, and give the affiliates continual contact with creative university researchers.

Industrial affiliates are able to join in the support of an identified area of research for a stated period of time, with each participant receiving the same benefits from membership in the program. Some of the industrial affiliate programs involve collaborative relations with other universities and the federal government. Normally, membership involves a fee that goes to support the research area.

The industrial affiliate programs have different goals and different terms and conditions of membership. An industrial affiliate program may have different levels of membership, at different membership fees, and with different membership benefits. The program objectives and descriptions are detailed in a formal agreement signed by both parties. Industrial affiliates may be provided the opportunity to become involved in the early stages of the intellectual property derived from affiliate research and are provided licensing opportunities to such technologies. You should contact the appropriate college to obtain information about the individual affiliate programs.

How do I begin my private research collaboration?

Virginia Tech will work with you to identify appropriate researchers with knowledge of your area of research. Most research projects begin with discussions between our research faculty and your technical counterparts. If these discussions result in a mutual determination that Virginia Tech can help solve your problem, a research proposal will be submitted for your approval. This proposal will include a research plan as well as cost or price for performing the work.

Will Virginia Tech team with other parties to offer special capabilities, facilities, and knowledge to perform research projects?

Yes. Joint efforts with other organizations are sometimes necessary to address complex problems and respond to research opportunities. The university has been a party to many varied arrangements covering a broad spectrum of activities. Virginia Tech has the ability to enter into memorandums of understanding, cooperative research and development agreements, joint ventures, partnerships, subcontractor, and other arrangements as necessary to best perform the research.

Because of the breadth of research activities at the university, it is impossible to commit the entire university to an exclusive teaming arrangement in an area of research. However, Virginia Tech can agree that the Principal Investigator and his/her support staff, or that a discrete unit of the university (i.e. research center), will participate exclusively in a particular project and/or specific area.

The terms of agreements are negotiated to ensure legal and technical aspects of each proposed arrangement are considered. The university has a model teaming agreement that contains terms and conditions acceptable for Virginia Tech acting as a subcontractor. This agreement can be modified and/or negotiated as necessary to fit the university’s role and the specific requirements of the individual project.

What type of agreements do I have to sign?

The type of agreement will depend on the type of research activity in which you become involved. Contracts for research projects to meet your individual needs are negotiated and administered by the university’s Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP). Any discussions between you and the university faculty or staff prior to the execution of the contract are preliminary only and do not bind either party. When appropriate, a nondisclosure agreement can be employed to handle the disclosure of confidential or proprietary information between you and the university researcher. OSP has a standard research agreement that can be provided to you for negotiating the final contract terms and conditions for the research project, considering any technical input from faculty and staff.

When can work begin?

OSP has standard procedures for proposing, negotiating, and administering sponsored research. No work may begin on a contract until the Principal Investigator is notified that a contract has been signed and that appropriate project accounting procedures are in place. Written amendment to the contract is needed to modify the terms or conditions of a contract, change the scope of the work, period of performance, or agree to an increase or decrease in the total estimated cost.

How will Virginia Tech protect my business’s confidential information?

The university requires a nondisclosure or material transfer agreement to be in place before confidential information can be exchanged. In the course of discussing potential research projects or performing contracted research, it may be necessary to exchange confidential information. While Virginia Tech is most likely to receive confidential information from sponsors or potential sponsors, we also have our own confidential information that we need to protect. For instance, our information regarding inventions and research proposals would be considered confidential. Computer software source codes are also usually treated as confidential.

The university will limit the exchange of confidential information to the minimum necessary and will comply with the terms and conditions of the confidentiality and material transfer agreements. University employees are required by their employment agreements and state law to protect confidential information. The university has general policies and procedures for protecting confidential information.

Do I have to give up rights to research results?

No. You will have rights to use the research results in any manner you wish. Virginia Tech normally retains the right to publish the research results that do not disclose confidential information or patentable subject matter. Virginia Tech’s mission statement emphasizes that the discovery and dissemination of new knowledge are central to the university’s mission. A major consideration in the university entering into research agreements is the ability to disseminate new knowledge by publishing student theses and scholarly papers derived from the effort. You will be given the opportunity to review articles or papers prior to any publication.

Considering your interests and input from our researchers, it may be possible to place restrictions on publications. This can be reviewed on a case by case basis. Publications must be timely to maintain the fundamental research exemption available to Virginia Tech under the federal export control laws. Accordingly, Virginia Tech normally allows a sponsor thirty (30) days to review and notify Virginia Tech of any confidential or patentable information within the publication. This time can be extended up to an additional 60 days with agreement of the Principal Investigator if such time is necessary to permit the preparation and filing of U.S. patent applications. Any further extension would require a subsequent mutual agreement.

Do I have to give up ownership of my intellectual property?

No. Any intellectual property you own before, or that is developed outside of, the research remains your property. The university has no rights to use that background intellectual property except as you permit. You also retain ownership of any intellectual property you solely create under any collaborate research.

What happens to intellectual property created by Virginia Tech under the collaborative research?

Virginia Tech has considerable latitude to establish good relationships with industry which benefit all parties. In most cases, issues of intellectual property arising from industry-supported research at universities focus around balancing the interest of the university, inventors, Commonwealth of Virginia and the sponsor. The extent to which state resources are used to support the research is an important consideration as is fulfilling the mission of sharing new discoveries widely. Each situation is evaluated on a case-by-case basis with the eventual goal of transferring technology to you in a timely and reasonable manner.

Can I own intellectual property created by Virginia Tech under the collaborative research?

In most cases, industry ownership of intellectual property is not required and is often not requested because a license is the preferred approach. When transfer of ownership is appropriate, mechanisms are in place to allow for this to take place. In extremely rare cases, the Governor’s approval to transfer ownership may be required.

When will Virginia Tech consider giving ownership of IP to the sponsor?

If a license will not give the sponsor the protection needed or if the research is based upon an extensive background intellectual property base of the sponsor, the university has the flexibility to give ownership to the sponsor.

What is the price of the intellectual property?

It is not in the interest of the university to simply give away intellectual property generated by faculty, students, and staff without appropriate compensation and protection of use and publication rights. The university has the responsibility to assure the citizens of the Commonwealth that it is a good manager of resources and that without regard to the source of funding intellectual property produced through research is appropriately commercialized and otherwise made available to the public. Transferring ownership and/or granting royalty-free licenses to industry for activities in which the university and Commonwealth have invested resources or which represents significant academic or revenue generating potential would not represent good stewardship, except under rare circumstances.

The university’s policy is to insist that the industry funding, at a minimum, cover all costs of the research and also include compensation equal to the anticipated revenue stream of licensing of the interest. Such negotiations require significant input from the principal investigators to judge the value of the financial support for the research and potential licensing income for something not yet invented. In addition, this approach may create certain unrelated business income tax consequences and IRS private use concerns in regard to financing bonds that must be managed by the university.

Does Virginia Tech have other technologies that I could use for my business?

Yes. The university’s intellectual properties are all assigned to Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties, Inc. (VTIP), an affiliated nonprofit corporation that manages and licenses the intellectual property. You may contact VTIP to discuss licensing and commercialization of technologies developed by Virginia Tech researchers.

Can I get a guarantee or warranty on the research?

No. Because the results of research can be neither predicted nor guaranteed, research is performed on a best efforts basis. Accordingly, the university will make no warranties in regard to the research results. The university will commit that the services will comply with generally accepted architectural, engineering, or scientific standards.

Because the university is a nonprofit state educational institution, there are no funds to offset business risk. Virginia Tech is reluctant to accept contract terms that impose penalties for failure to make progress or provide for withholding of payment if the sponsor is not satisfied with the results.

How does Virginia Tech deal with conflicts of interest?

The university will manage conflicts of interest so as to ensure research results are objective, unbiased, and in conformance with the highest standards of professionalism.

As a state institution, each employee of the university is subject to the Commonwealth of Virginia’s conflict of interest laws and the university’s policies and procedures on conflicts of interests. Virginia Tech and its researchers will comply with all federal, state, and institutional conflict of interest requirements.

The university will not knowingly enter into research agreements that have conflicting commitments and obligations. Any conflicts of interest (personal and/or organizational) will be resolved so as to protect the integrity of the research.

How does Virginia Tech address technology export control requirements?

The university will comply with all federal export control rules and regulations. The university will reserve the right to reject any project that may involve export controlled services or technical data.

The university will accept projects that involve export controlled information only after the university has either obtained the necessary authorization for any export or can perform the research in such a manner that results in no unauthorized export.

The university will require sponsors to identify any export controlled information that will be provided under the research project so that it can be protected from unauthorized export. Sponsors will be required to identify any research that would be subject to the export control restrictions. If the university decides to accept such research, the sponsor will assist the university in obtaining any available authorizations for export. For questions on export controls, contact David Brady.

How do I obtain, or provide, materials for the research?

A material transfer agreement must be in place before the university can provide or receive materials for research. The university will comply with the terms and conditions of any such negotiated agreements.

The university allows the exchange of materials for research and/or commercial purposes. The university will not provide, nor receive, any materials until a material transfer agreement (MTA) is negotiated and executed. The university has standard agreements for the transfer of both biological and non-biological materials. The university can provide materials for research or commercial purposes.

What research facilities does Virginia Tech have available?

The university has state-of-the-art testing facilities and equipment available on the Virginia Tech campus and at collaborating institutions such as Wake Forest and Institute for Advanced Learning and Research. The university invites and encourages use of this equipment in sponsored research consistent with its nonprofit status.

There are over 100 interdisciplinary centers and educational groups associated with the university, all of which offer specialized facilities with unique research instruments and equipment. As a tax exempt educational institution, the university’s facilities must be used for public purposes, cannot be used for gain by private individuals, and cannot be used in a manner that constitutes unfair competition with for-profit taxable commercial entities. Research facilities which are unique and not reasonably available commercially may be used by private companies if approved by the Office of Sponsored Programs. In determining commercial availability, factors such as quality and time for service as well as location of facilities will be considered.

Can my company participate in the research and use Virginia Tech’s facilities?

Virginia Tech allows for visiting scientists to view and participate in research activities. Under suitable conditions, you would be able to personally interact and participate in your research project. Arrangements must be made through the Office of Sponsored Programs prior to use of any university facilities for sponsored research. In addition, the university has policies and procedures in place to allow for your use of our facilities without having to sponsor a research project.

Who do I contact with questions?

Various individuals within the university handle different aspects of research. Your initial contact should be with the appropriate college associate dean for research who can direct you to the faculty with expertise in your area of research.