General remarks

When several researchers and/or research units are working together on a research project, a number of issues should be considered carefully, and it will often prove advantageous to enter into a formal agreement on these issues at the outset of the research project. This is especially true when industry, public authorities, organisations and the like collaborate in the work.

The following discusses a number of issues that it would normally prove advantageous to clarify when working on a collaborative research project. On the page about commissioned research, you can read more about the special issues that arise when the business community or public authorities commission research, analysis or advisory services from the universities, including in the form of research-based public services. On the page about research collaboration agreements, you can find links to a number of the standard agreements used in the area.

Scope of the project

  • The purpose, content and scope of the research project
  • The timetable for the research project
  • The research project participants and their responsibilities

Project management and administration

Project finance and other resources

  • Research project budget
  • Applications for (additional) funding
  • Equipment for the research project

Rights to research results and existing knowledge

The research project will provide new research data and research results (often referred to as the ”foreground knowledge”), which may be of interest to the research project participants and others. Any rights which participants may thus obtain should always be clarified in advance.

If the research project relates to inventions or creations that may receive patent or utility model protection, this should be given considered. See also: Who owns the research?

Research project participants typically make their knowledge available to the research project. Any rights to existing knowledge (often referred to as ”background knowledge”) should be determined.

Examples of rights agreements are available under Agreements on research collaborations.

The importance of such agreements was discussed at the UBVA symposium in 2016:

Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs)

One or more participants may have an interest in requiring the other participants to maintain secrecy concerning foreground and/or background knowledge.

The individual research institutions often have specific policies for what they consider to be acceptable confidentiality requirements.

Protection of knowledge sources

It is important to note that researchers may be required to give evidence on matters relating to their research. This can give rise to concern in relation to sources who wish to remain anonymous, for example because they may be in breach of the law, cf. the following memorandum to the national parliament of Denmark:

Publication and dissemination

  • What can be published and disseminated, by whom and when?
  • Authorships

See the articles on Publication and Dissemination and freedom of expression.

Restriction of competition

  • Should the participants’ access to participate in other competing projects be limited or regulated

Responsible conduct of research

The agreement could explicitly address the question of how to ensure that the research project is carried out in accordance with good scientific practice.

Non-compliance and dispute resolution

It may be appropriate to agree on what happens if one or more participants fail to meet their obligations under the research collaboration. It may also be appropriate in relation to possible violations of good scientific practice or actual research misconduct.

It may be a good idea to establish a formal procedure for dealing with disputes during the research collaboration. You could, for example, involve respected colleagues or (if possible) a named person. Legal disputes – for example issues in which a participant may be held liable for damages – can be decided by the courts, unless an arbitration agreement has been entered into.

In large projects it may also be appropriate to consider the participants’ legal responsibility for errors or breach of agreement.

See also

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