Research produces data. As a product, common sense might suggest that
the person who conducts the research should own the product—the
data. In fact, conditions imposed by funders, research institutions,
and data sources may dictate otherwise.
Funders provide support for research for different reasons. Government
is interested in improving the general health and welfare of society.
Private companies are interested in profits, along with benefits to
society. Philanthropic organizations are interested in advancing particular
causes. These different interests translate into different ownership
- Government gives research institutions the right to use data collected
with public funds as an incentive to put research to use for the public
good (see the discussion of the Bayh-Dole Act, Chapter 5).
- Private companies seek to retain the right to the commercial use
- Philanthropic organizations retain or give away ownership rights
depending on their interests.
Since the claims of funders can and do vary considerably, researchers
must be aware of their obligations to them before they begin collecting
With government funding, it is important to distinguish between grants
and contracts. Under grants, researchers must carry out the research
as planned and submit reports, but control of the data remains with
the institution that received the funds (see below). Contracts require
the researcher to deliver a product or service, which is then usually
owned and controlled by the government. If your research is supported
with government funds, make sure you know whether you are working under
a grant or a contract. The difference is significant and could determine
who has the right to publish and use your results.
institutions. Support for research istypically awarded
to research institutions, not to individual researchers. As the recipients
of research funds, research institutions have responsibilities for budgets,
regulatory compliance, contractual obligations, and data management.
To assure that they are able to meet these responsibilities, research
institutions claim ownership rights over data collected with funds given
to the institution. This means that researchers cannot automatically
assume that they can take their data with them if they move to another
institution. The research institution that received the funds may have
rights and obligations to retain control over the data.
Increasingly research subjects and other entities that are the source
of data are seeking some control over data derived from them. Countries
with unique resources, such as tropical rain forests, individuals with
rare medical conditions, and entities with unique databases, have at
one time or another claimed ownership of research results based on their
data. Research subjects and entities that have or can be the source
of important data may no longer be willing to provide or be the source
of data without some ownership stake in the end results.
Well before any data are collected, ownership issues and the responsibilities
that come with them need to be carefully worked out. Before undertaking
any work, make sure you can answer the following questions:
- Who owns the data I am collecting?
- What rights do I have to publish the data?
- Does collecting these data impose any obligations on me?
If you do not have firm answers for each of these questions, preferably
in writing when financial interests are involved, you are not ready
to begin your research.
It is also important to note that in most cases ownership provisions
must be approved by the institution that receives and is responsible
for the administration of research funds. Researchers therefore should
not enter into agreements that affect the control and use of data without
getting institutional approval. The results could be disastrous and
expensive if ownership is disputed later.