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Harvard University welcomes industrially supported research. Projects undertaken in cooperation with industry can extend the perspectives of investigators, provide valuable resources and support, and lead to discoveries of broad public interest. Naturally, every agreement with an industrial sponsor or collaborator must be fully consonant with the University's obligations as a beneficiary of the public's trust and of public financial support. None may compromise, nor give the public good reason to believe that Harvard is compromising, the University's fundamental academic values or the freedom of inquiry that members of Harvard's Faculties enjoy.

These guidelines outline some general principles — concerning how and why research is conducted at the University — which all research agreements must comply. They also identify some conditions likely to pose problems. Before any agreement containing such conditions is accepted, adequate procedures for safeguarding these principles must be specified in writing and approved by the Dean of the Faculty, who may seek the advice of appropriate committees. Agreements containing terms that violate, or may reasonably be interpreted as violating, these or other fundamental University values will not be accepted.

I. Conduct of Research

The exchange of information and the discussion and interchange of ideas are basic elements of all University research. Agreements to perform secret research in Harvard laboratories are unacceptable. Nevertheless, agreements not to disclose certain research information (for example, the records of identifiable individuals, groups, or organizations) may be consistent with the University's educational, professional, and scholarly principles; laws require that some information be kept confidential. Agreements not to disclose information for reasons other than for the protection of privacy (for example, agreements giving sponsors or collaborators authority to limit or delay the disclosure of research results) pose more subtle dilemmas. The acceptability of such agreements involves the following considerations:

  1. Only in exceptional circumstances, after review and/or approval by the Dean or his or her designee, will the University agree to accept projects involving the use of confidential or background information that cannot be freely and openly discussed by scholars. Exceptions will be granted only if the maintenance of the confidentiality of the materials provided by a sponsor or other third party does not inhibit communication significantly, and the effect (however minimal) is clearly outweighed by the academic benefits.
  2. The research of students and postdoctoral-fellows-in-training must contribute, and be perceived to contribute, to their scholarly development. Ordinarily, students should not participate in projects that require protection of confidential information or otherwise constrain the right to publish or communicate freely. Exceptions consistent with the University's principles (including, for example, certain student apprenticeships) should be approved in advance by the student's department or at a higher level. Exceptions must never compromise the ability of students freely to discuss and publish their thesis research. Departments should also check that the educational goals of students supported by industrially sponsored research projects are not being compromised.
  3. Agreements may permit industrial sponsors thirty days to examine manuscripts for potentially patentable material or to ensure that the sponsors' confidential or background information is not being disclosed, and allow an additional thirty days to undertake patent protection. However, agreements may not allow further publication delay, nor give sponsors the authority to prevent or to alter reports of research conducted at the University.
  4. Sponsors may consult with principal investigators on matters of mutual concern but they may not dictate how research shall proceed.
  5. All research proposals must be approved by the department and by the Dean or the Dean's designee. Provisions in industrially sponsored research agreements that could significantly affect other investigators — within and beyond the department — should be disclosed to them.
  6. Information on the nature of any and all restrictions on open communication and agreements on patents and copyrights should be maintained as part of the project records along with data on the subject, duration, funding sources, and budget of each industrially sponsored research agreement.

II. Motivation for Research (Conflicts of Interest)

Faculty members have a responsibility to maintain the scholarly character of their research. Faculty members who propose to participate in industrially sponsored research must disclose to the designated individual or committee, the nature of all personal commitments to, and remuneration by, the industrial sponsor. (In this context, personal commitments and remuneration are understood to include equity options and holdings as well as income from consulting or other services and personal agreements regarding confidentiality and publication. Such disclosures will be held in confidence.) Questions emerging from such disclosures should be resolved with the Dean of the Faculty and/or the appropriate faculty committees before the University accepts the sponsored research agreement.

III. Quality of Research (Project Review)

The distinction between fundamental intellectual inquiry and commercially targeted development is not always clear and the endless range of variations cannot possibly be determined in advance. Many investigators are committed to studying tools and processes whose primary purpose is to benefit the health or welfare of society in areas that might have commercial value. Nevertheless, the following University principles and policies apply:

  1. The Faculty's primary control on the quality of the sponsored research carried out under its banner derives from the eligibility requirements to be a principal investigator.
  2. The responsibility faculty members bear for the intellectual development of their research students and the responsibility of departments and Faculties to oversee graduate student research are especially important when industrially-sponsored research is involved, and when conflicts of interest may appear to exist for faculty members or for the University.
  3. When sponsored research proposals are subject to peer review, prior approval by the Dean of the scientific content of proposals to conduct such research is often perfunctory. In the absence of other review processes, however, the Dean or the Dean's designee may require a more careful examination of the suitability of research proposals before approval. Large projects, extending over several years and/or entailing a substantial commitment of a department's resources, may also warrant added review while they are in progress.

IV. Commercial Applications of Research

  1. In cases where research may result in inventions, discoveries, or other output that can be protected by patents and copyrights, the University should be guided by the principle that inventions deriving from University-based research that will benefit the public should be developed fully and rapidly in the public interest. Thus the University should only grant rights to commercialize such inventions to sponsors who have the will, ability, and resources to bring products to market in a timely manner. The University should retain the right to "march-in" if, after a suitable period, a licensee has not developed and/or commercialized the discovery satisfactorily.
  2. Both investigators and the University should take every step to ensure that any privilege accorded a sponsor of a project is carefully limited, so as not to affect other research of the investigator or other investigators.
  3. If investigators have significant private financial relationships with potential industrial sponsors of research, further review is necessary. The granting of exclusive licenses should not be contemplated before the financial relationships and the proposed research have been examined by the Dean or his or her designee (or, for agreements not emanating from a single Faculty, a committee of Deans or their designees). The Harvard Corporation should be advised of the background and conditions of any such proposed arrangement.


* Voted by the President and Fellows of Harvard College, October 3, 1983; revised April 3, 2000.