Frequently Asked Questions - SGC Open Science Trust Agreement
How does the Open Science Trust Agreement (“OSTA”) differ from a Material Transfer Agreement (“MTA”)?
An MTA is a contract between a recipient and a provider of research material, under which the recipient agrees to respect certain terms and conditions required by the provider in exchange for the provider agreeing to provide the material to the recipient. An MTA is thus a bilateral arrangement under which the recipient owes certain duties to the provider that stem from a conception of the research material as proprietary.
Under the OSTA, instead of undertaking bilateral contractual duties to the SGC as the provider, a recipient instead agrees to become a trustee of the research material. A trust such as the OSTA is a legal mechanism under which an appointed trustee takes legal possession of property but assumes a duty to use or manage that property to benefit certain beneficiaries, which can be third parties and/or the public. With the OSTA, unlike under an MTA, by becoming a trustee of SGC-provided research material, a recipient is undertaking a specific duty to benefit the public through open science.
Three particular aspects of the OSTA reflect this commitment to benefitting the public:
First, recipients undertake to forego seeking or enforcing intellectual property rights covering the material, which could deter or prevent others in the research community from using the material to further the public good.
Second, recipients undertake to place the research findings and data resulting from their work with the material into the public domain, which helps to accelerate discovery.
Third, recipients are permitted to disseminate the material to other researchers who likewise agree to become trustees, thus expanding the community of researchers committed to open science for the public good.
Why use an OSTA instead of an MTA?
In our experience, the use of a typical MTA leads to reagents being treated as commercial goods, which in turn cultivates a sense of individual ownership, leads to unwarranted delays in research as institutions negotiate over terms, and cuts against the goal of promoting open science. Instead, we want the recipients of SGC research materials to become members of a community that treats the materials not as proprietary, but as public good resources to be shared broadly and openly.
What does it mean to be a trustee? Who are the beneficiaries?
A trustee is a person who has been given legal control over property for the benefit of others according to the terms of a trust agreement. Under the OSTA, the beneficiaries to whom the trustee owes open science-related duties are the SGC and others in both the scientific community and the public at large who may benefit from open access to the material and from the accelerated discoveries that may result from such open access.
Who becomes the trustee under the OSTA?
Typically, the principal investigator requesting access to SGC material becomes the trustee. In that case, it is the principal investigator’s responsibility to ensure that the duties under the OSTA are consistent with the requirements of his or her institution. However, in principle, any person or organization that agrees to the terms of the OSTA can become a trustee.
Can I cease being a trustee after accepting the terms of the OSTA?
If you wish to cease being a trustee, you should give written notice to the SGC by contacting Arij Al Chawaf at firstname.lastname@example.org, and either return the material to the SGC or find a suitable third party who is willing to receive the material under the terms of the OSTA. Your obligations not to seek intellectual property rights and to openly disseminate findings and data would continue to apply with respect to research you had already conducted while in possession of the material.
How do I share the Material with others?
Material may be shared with others who agree to an OSTA covering the same material. You should direct a third party with whom you wish to share material to the OSTA link on the SGC’s website. Once there, the individual should agree to the OSTA with respect to the material you wish to send and the SGC will deliver an electronic copy of the completed OSTA to him or her by email. Finally, before you transfer the material to that person, you should require a copy of the completed OSTA to establish that he or she has become a trustee.
Can I file for intellectual property protection covering the material?
No, seeking intellectual property protection over the material or its uses is not permitted as it could prevent or deter open science with the material, thus defeating the core objective of the OSTA. This prohibition does not apply to derivatives of the material that you may develop.
My institution requires that I assist it in seeking intellectual property protection on my research results. Can I receive the material as a trustee?
It is the recipient’s obligation to ensure that his or her duties as a trustee will not conflict with applicable institutional policies and/or to receive permission from his or her institution to undertake the obligations of a trustee under the OSTA where such conflicts might exist.
How do I report misuse of the material (e.g. filing for intellectual property rights, etc.)?