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September 9, 1998

Corporate Gifts to Academic Researchers

Author Affiliations

Margaret A.WinkerMD, Senior EditorIndividualAuthorPhil B.FontanarosaMD, Senior EditorIndividualAuthor

JAMA. 1998;280(10):883-884. doi:10-1001/pubs.JAMA-ISSN-0098-7484-280-10-jac80015

To the Editor.—The article on corporate gifts to university researchers1 and the attendant publicity in the press have led to some misconceptions about the nature of corporate transfers of biomaterials, the most frequently cited "gift" in the study.

In fact, what those of us who are involved in academic technology transfer have come to identify as material transfer agreements (MTAs) are anything but "gifts," particularly when for-profit entities are the suppliers of the materials. Ballentine's Law Dictionary2 defines a gift as "a voluntary transfer of property by one to another without any considerationor compensation therefor [emphasis added]." Each one of the hundreds of proposed MTAs from industry that I have reviewed contains provisions calling for option rights to intellectual property developed using the transferred material, prepublication review of manuscripts describing the use of the materials, and restrictions on transfer to third parties. Specifically, with respect to option rights, these agreements vastly broaden the companies' access to additional technologies made through incorporating or using their proprietary materials. Companies that are particularly aggressive in negotiating these arrangements in effect create a network of subsidiary research and development laboratories within academia by these contractually developed option rights. Thus, there is significant legal consideration that accompanies these arrangements, making them essentially analogous to transactions whereby companies fund research at academic institutions. Recipient institutions should review them with that level of scrutiny.

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