Preliminary Discussions with Business and Industry Sponsors
Preliminary discussions with prospective funding sources should be limited to matters relating to the scientific aspects of the work; budgetary matters must first be cleared with OSP, and only thereafter incorporated into a proposal. Invention rights are another feature requiring close attention in the negotiation of agreements with private companies and the assistance of OSP in developing appropriate arrangements should be sought. Proposals to industry are generally less elaborate than those required by government agencies and private foundations, but are expected to contain specific statements of the work to be performed.
In preliminary discussions with industry personnel, it is important to remember that the work to be done should have obvious research value or should have a clear relationship to WVU’s academic responsibilities; that there should be maximum involvement of students; that there should be no apparent conflict with WVU’s guidelines concerning the avoidance of competition with private enterprise; and that publication of research results within a reasonable time is assured.
To successfully foster collaborative research efforts, West Virginia University (WVU)’s Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) has developed a brief guide to summarize a number of important principles and practices applicable to research agreements between WVU and industry or other commercial organizations. Although these general principles and procedures apply to most sponsored research at WVU, the purpose of this guide is to address the most common questions that tend to arise when dealing with for-profit organizations that are sponsoring research conducted at WVU. This guide is provided as information only and is not to be considered to be part of any legally binding agreement.
Selected Principles and Practices
Proposal Review, Approvals and Submission
A WVU researcher, who will serve as Principal Investigator (PI) for the project, develops a proposal that describes the research to be completed, identifies the individuals who will participate, and sets forth an estimated budget, including both direct and indirect costs.
The proposal is submitted through the WVU’s electronic research proposal submission system by the PI.
The department chair or other unit director, as well as the dean, review the proposal. Such approvals require determinations that the
- project is appropriate for the department or unit to undertake as a part of its educational and research program, including necessary reviews for scientific merit;
- appropriate staff are available and the faculty member is willing to supervise the research;
- the proposed budget is adequate to pay for the anticipated costs of the project;
- adequate space and other facilities are available.
The proposal is then reviewed by the WVU Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) with particular attention to financial, business, compliance, and legal considerations. In appropriate cases, it may be necessary to refer all or part of the proposal to other research offices or committees for reviews and concurrence. When the review process is completed, the WVU OSP negotiates and finalizes an appropriate research agreement with the sponsor.
Establishing an Agreement or Contract
Initial discussions between the for-profit sponsor and the prospective WVU researcher are encouraged since these discussions are necessary to confirm mutual interest and develop a research plan and related budget. It should be understood, however, that a sponsored research project and agreement/contract can only be formally authorized through normal internal contractual review procedures and after an acceptable agreement is negotiated and signed by an authorized representative of the WVU OSP.
If a confidentiality agreement is required in order for the preliminary discussions to occur, the WVU Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) can negotiate, prepare, and sign such an agreement.
Negotiation of the Agreement or Contract
All sponsored program agreements are executed on behalf of the WVU by the WVU Research Corporation. This process includes all terms and conditions of the agreement, which may require consultation with the PI, legal counsel, risk management, the WVU Technology Transfer Office, and others within various central administrative units, as needed.
Discussions between sponsor representatives and WVU researchers are preliminary only and no understandings or agreements are legally binding until reflected in a duly-executed written agreement. When negotiations are completed, the agreement/contract can be signed by the appropriate manager within the WVU OSP who has delegated authority to do so.
Research Project Administration
The PI has the primary responsibility for conducting the research and for ensuring that only proper costs are charged to the project account. Reports and any required deliverables are submitted to the sponsor, consistent with terms of the particular agreement. During course of the project, the department or operating unit provides oversight, particularly with respect to fiscal matters.
Any correspondence proposing modification to the terms of a research agreement, including changes in the scope of the work, or an increase or decrease in the price for the work must be handled through the WVU OSP. Renewals or extensions involving additional funds also must be reviewed through normal procedures in the same way as a new proposal.