process should not destroy the commercial interests of an author. However, an author (and an author’s institution) must be willing to enable the community to use and build on that information by conducting further research. A good example is MIT’s patented process for small interfering RNAs (siRNAs). Individual investigators can seek a research license for the process directly from MIT but can also obtain one by purchasing RNA oligonucleotides from vendors commercially licensed by MIT to incorporate a research license for MIT’s process in the vendor’s product. MIT is also considering whether to negotiate commercial licenses with companies that wish to use process in the development of new therapeutic products (as opposed to research reagents).
Since the 1980s, transfers of materials between investigators (and between investigators’ institutions) in the life sciences have been routinely accompanied by material transfer agreements (MTAs). An MTA defines the rights of the recipient to the use of a material, such as the right to undertake modifications, explore new uses of the material, and seek new inventions by using the material. It also defines how rights to intellectual property resulting from use of the material, if any, are apportioned between the material provider and the recipient.
Transfers of materials between parties are not always related to requests to authors after publication of a scientific paper. The terms of MTAs negotiated for transfers unrelated to publication may be, for various reasons, complex and far-reaching. Such MTAs may contain extreme restrictions on the use of a material, give the provider title to any new inventions that result from its use, include requirements to review the recipient’s research progress related to use of the material, and have other terms. MTAs of this kind are often negotiated in the transfer of (unpublished) materials between companies and universities, but also occur in other contexts—for example, countries that grant permission to allow the export of biological samples for scientific study often prohibit their subsequent use for commercial purposes or distribution to commer-