10.3 Guidelines for Ownership of Research Materials

Definition of Research Materials

The existing policies on intellectual property (University of Alberta Research Policies and Services, Office the Vice-President (Research), January 1994) cover patentable inventions or ideas, and copyright of written material, creative works and computer software. While the ownership of inventions and copyright is clearly defined, the ownership of research materials is less clear. Some research materials, such as cell strains, plant cultivars and prototypes of inventions fall under the existing policy because they mainly would be interpreted to be outcomes of research. The existing policy recognizes the rights of the inventors, including graduate students and staff, to determine the use of the results of research. Ownership of original research materials used to produce the outcome (e.g., laboratory records, original spectroscopy reports, and so on) is not covered by the policy. These guidelines are intended for use by departments in developing more specific policies suited to their specific needs.

Ownership versus Custodianship of Research Materials

One way to phrase the ownership question regarding these materials is to ask who should possess the original research materials, and another way is to ask who should have the right to access the original materials and to possess copies of the original materials. Such research materials would include original recordings, photographic negatives and other original source materials required for reproduction, original laboratory notebooks, blood samples, histological preparations, original questionnaires and surveys on which responses are recorded, and so on. Ownership is an unworkable principle on which to base policy, because different responsibilities frequently require control of, or unimpeded access to, original materials by different people involved in the same collaborative endeavor. A researcher must have control over, or ready access to, original research materials when (a) he or she is required by funding agencies and professional organizations to maintain the original materials for a statutory period of time, and/or (b) he or she would be the person against whom allegations of misconduct or fraud would be made by virtue of being the person identified as primarily responsible for a particular scientific or creative contribution (e.g., publication), and/or (c) he or she would be the person normally contacted by other researchers who seek access to the original research materials for purposes of replication and reanalysis of data from a particular scientific or creative contribution. Existing University policy regarding this issue is found in the University of Alberta Research and Scholarship Integrity Policy, and is designed to accommodate the preceding point (b) while trying not to conflict with point (a). According to 96.2.6 of that policy, "Original data must be retained by the principal investigator(s) for a minimum of five (5) years or such longer periods as required by funding agencies or funding oversight agencies" (p.3). Note that we did not define "principal investigator," and that we used the word "retain" rather than wording that would require a determination of ownership.

The recommended best practice is to recognize that ownership of original research materials is held jointly by all collaborators, and to designate one individual as the custodial agent of the materials for all contributors. Joint ownership would of course include graduate students, and graduate students could be custodial agents. One of two alternatives should be followed when research is conducted by collaborators (including graduate students). If the research is funded by an agency that requires maintenance of original material by the grant-holder (PI), then that person would become the custodial agent of the materials for all collaborators and would provide free access to the materials as needed by the project collaborators in order for them to satisfy their own statutory and collegial responsibilities. Where possible, the custodial agent would provide copies of the materials to collaborators on request for their own archival and scholarly purposes. If the research is unfunded or there is no funding agency regulation regarding retention of materials, the custodial agent for the original materials would be the person who, by agreement of all collaborators, receives primary credit for the particular research or scholarly contribution, and who therefore is primarily responsible for the integrity of the research should there be an allegation of fraud or misconduct. The custodial agent would in this case also provide free access to the original materials by collaborators, and would provide copies on demand where possible, for the furtherance of the agreed upon collaborative project. Note that the second option would permit collaborators on a long-term unfunded project to appoint a single custodian for all materials, rather than dividing related materials among themselves if primary contribution shifts among collaborators from study to study. In cases of equal co-principal investigator status, custodial responsibility would be by agreement of the co-PIs.

(FGSR Council, 1996/11/15)