Unfunded Research Collaborations

Sponsored agreements provide funds to Penn State for faculty to perform research or research-related services, accompanied by various terms or conditions provided by the sponsor.  There are also situations where a sponsor desires to collaborate with Penn State faculty but there is no exchange of financial resources. These unfunded collaborations can be beneficial to the researcher and to Penn State for sharing research data and/or intellectual property with other scientists or institutions. Like a sponsored project, an unfunded research collaboration should set out expectations, terms, and requirements that protect the interests of the investigators and the participating organizations.

Unfunded research collaboration agreements can:

  • Ensure a mutual understanding of the scope of the project and each party’s role
  • Identify schedules and deliverables
  • Safeguard intellectual property rights
  • Preserve the right to publish the results of the project
  • Define authorship and acknowledgement expectations including order of authorship (see authorship guidelines.)
  • Require compliance with human subject, animal subject, rDNA, or biohazard requirements
  • Require compliance with data restrictions or data privacy requirements, including data security obligations
  • Determine data retention and storage requirements, including how to manage the sharing of data and management of data upon completion of a project
  • Identify and address potential export control compliance issues
  • Require the identification of confidential information and/or export-controlled information prior to disclosure
  • Document a research relationship with a foreign entity
  • Require compliance with Penn State policies and federal and state laws and regulations

Penn State requires IAFs for both funded and unfunded research collaborations. For unfunded agreements, creation of an IAF addresses:

  1. Compliance approvals. If the project requires IRB (human subjects) or IACUC (animal) approvals, the IAF is used by these compliance programs to verify that the appropriate approvals are in place as required by applicable University policies (See RP03 and RP04). Also, if hazardous materials are involved, this can be addressed accordingly per University policy (see RP11).
  2. Export control. Although the sponsor would be screened by virtue of the agreement being logged into SIMS, other export issues (such as foreign visitors and foreign delivery of goods, materials, or services) are flagged via the IAF process.
  3. Intellectual property determination. An IAF is needed to determine Intellectual Property (IP) ownership, particularly in cases of industrial partners. For collaborations with industry partners, the Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) relies on the answers to the IP questions to know how to negotiate the IP terms of the agreement, and whether a PIPA is required. The IAF also alerts us if any Penn State background IP is in play.
  4. Provides notification to stakeholders in the project.  Agreements processed without an IAF could go unnoticed by Department Heads and/or Research Deans.  For instance, a Department Head might have an interest in knowing that the University is committing its own resources to engage in a collaborative research effort. The IAF provides OSP assurance that the appropriate persons in the College/Department approve of Penn State bearing its own costs on the project.
  5. Documents cost share commitment.  The IAF houses the internal budget which documents the amount of effort being cost-shared on the project. Signatures on the IAF indicate the concurrence of Department Heads and others with the proposed level of cost-share. Cost share budgets can also provide valuable insight to OSP to be able to properly negotiate terms of an agreement, e.g., equipment title. 
  6. Documents the Scope of Work.  There is value in having the technical SOW available in the IAF to permit OSP to confirm the expectations and deliverables contained in the agreement.
  7. Disclosure of Commitments. In order to complete Federally-mandated disclosures (e.g., Other Support forms, Current and Pending Support forms), Penn State needs to maintain a record of all projects involving a time commitment, including unpaid collaborative effort. 
  8. Conflict of Interest. The IAF documents any conflicts of interest in accordance with Penn State Policy RP06.   

Because an unfunded agreement requires the commitment of University resources (effort and/or other financial resources), an IAF is required.  Please contact your OSP Negotiator if you are interested in entering into an unfunded research collaboration.   

Preparation of an IAF and logging the agreement into SIMS creates a record of the agreement, provides a repository for negotiations and documentation of the agreement, and the ability to search for the agreement by sponsor, faculty, and project title. 

Unfunded agreements will not be distributed to Research Accounting as there is no invoicing component, but the agreement will be distributed to the faculty member and College/Unit research office so project requirements and cost share commitments can be monitored.  Additionally, unfunded agreements can be accessed via the faculty member’s myResearch Portal.