Administrators and the Responsible Conduct of Research
Ownership of Data, Federal Policies

Ownership of Data – Federal Policies

The word "ownership" is rarely, if ever, used in federal regulations when applied to the data collected and generated under federally-funded projects. This contributes to the difficulty in discussing the concept of data ownership. There are, however, several examples within the federal regulations that confirm the institution’s ownership of all data. For instance, OMB Circular A-110 (Section _.53) states that the institution must retain "financial records, supporting documents, statistical records, and all other records pertinent to an award...." While this statement may seem to be concerned with financial and administration data, in a letter to the National Science Foundation on April 11, 1994, the Deputy Controller of the Office of Management and Budget stated that term like "other records" noted above in OMB Circular A-110 includes research and technical data generated in the course of sponsored projects.

In 1998, Public Law 105-277, commonly referred to as the Shelby Amendment was enacted. That law essentially provides that members of the public may use the Freedom of Information Act to gain access to research data resulting from federally sponsored projects. The law as finally put into regulatory form was interpreted by the Office of Management and Budget to be restricted to data which is used by federal agencies in developing federal policy. The point, however, is that the requirements to provide access to research data is imposed on institutions, not individual researchers, since the institution is the legal party to federally sponsored projects.

Perhaps the clearest examples lie in the area of intellectual property. The Bayh-Dole Act governs the rights to inventions discovered in the performance of federally sponsored projects. It contains no provisions that place responsibilities on individual researchers; rather, all responsibilities are given to the institution to comply with disclosure, reporting, and licensing requirements. Furthermore, OMB Circular (Section _.36) states that title to "intangible property" vests in the recipient (i.e., the institution), where intangible property is defined in part to include "trademarks, copyrights, patents and patent applications." Finally, both the Federal Acquisition Regulations and agency specific grant regulations clearly reserve in one form or another a royalty-free, nonexclusive license to copyrightable materials or research data generated with federal funds. As noted above, since the awards are made to the institution rather than to individual investigators, the clear implication is that it is the institution that retains the responsibility for complying with the requirement to ensure that federal rights are preserved.

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