A Material Imperative: Protecting the Intellectual Outcomes of Research Through Formal Transfer Agreements

Authors: Jane Nielsen (University of Tasmania), Dianne Nicol (University of Tasmania), Tess Whitton (University of Tasmania) and John Liddicoat (University of Tasmania)

Patents over research materials in biotechnology research have long been posited as being responsible for research hold-ups. And yet more recently, contractual agreements over tangible materials (material transfer agreements or MTAs) have been identified as perhaps a greater problem. This paper reports some preliminary results from a study that aims to comprehensively map the MTA environment in Australia. Both materials and data are often transferred without a fee. MTAs are more common than data transfer agreements, and are becoming increasingly ubiquitous. Yet to our knowledge, an MTA has never been enforced in Australia.

This leads to the question as to why they are considered to be important. A key component of the project is the role that intellectual property (IP) plays in their use. We consider whether a perception that a commercial outcome is likely, is driving the increasing use of MTAs. If a commercial result appears unlikely, why is it that terms claiming rights to IP are commonly sought in MTAs? This paper examines these questions against the backdrop of evidence obtained from interviews with personnel from technology transfer officers, and from the first in a series of interviews to be conducted with biological research scientists.

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