Ownership of Research Materials and Data

Ownership of Research Materials and Data

Normally research materials such as chemical reagents, solvents, etc. and miscellaneous supplies including notebooks, pens, zip disks, CDs, paper, etc. are provided by your research advisor and workplace for your use in carrying out your research project. These materials are purchased using internal or external funds specifically designated to support the project on which you are working. This means that these materials are the property of the research laboratory and/or institution where you are carrying out your research. Perhaps the most important of these materials is the laboratory notebook. Since it is a record of all of the work that has been performed on a specific project, it has immense value in terms of the intellectual property (research ideas, evidence of reduction to practice, etc.) for your advisor and your workplace. For this reason, it is not acceptable to remove laboratory notebooks or any other materials and supplies from the research lab without your advisor’s express permission nor is it acceptable to remove pages from the notebook or to photocopy pages without obtaining express permission to do so. Note that many laboratory notebooks, particularly those that you may be required to purchase for your science and engineering laboratory courses, are designed to allow the user to make a copy of the contents of the notebook. Don’t assume that simply because the notebook design allows you to make a copy that you have your advisor and/or your workplace’s permission to make and retain photocopies of the notebook contents.

It is also not acceptable to borrow and use research materials for demonstrations, science fairs or any other projects and/or activities outside the workplace without first obtaining the express permission of your advisor and workplace. There are two potential issues here: intellectual property rights and laboratory safety (liability issues), too. In some cases, the materials you may use in your work may have been acquired from other research groups and/or companies through legal signed “transfer of materials” agreements that limit their use. Even if there are no signed agreements, unanticipated problems resulting from the use of misuse of the research materials may pose health risks that could pose serious legal liability issues for you and your employer.

Advice:

  • As a student working in someone else’s research laboratory, it is important for you to find out what your advisor’s policies are regarding the ownership of research materials and data and follow
  • Always ask first and obtain written permission from your advisor to use or remove any materials outside the laboratory