When several researchers and/or research units are working together on a research project, a number of issues should be considered carefully, and often it will 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 participate.

Important considerations

The following discusses a number of issues that would normally prove advantageous to clarify when working in a research project. A few examples of specific agreements can be found under Agreements on research collaborations.

Scope of the project

  • Purpose, content and scope of the research project
  • Timetable for the research project
  • 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 get patent or utility model protection, this should be considered further. 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.

Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs)

One or more participants may have an interest in requiring that the other participants keep any foreground and/or background knowledge secret.

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

Protection of knowledge sources

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

Good scientific practice

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

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 and actual scientific dishonesty.

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 practice committee. Legal disputes – for example on issues where a participant may be held liable for damages – can be decided by the courts, unless an arbitration agreement has been made.

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

See also