Master Research Agreement and Template

On occasion, some non-federal sponsors that fund multiple research programs at MIT with frequent awards to different MIT departments, laboratories, and centers will ask to negotiate a single Master Research Agreement (MRA) that will govern all research activities supported by that sponsor at MIT. As with Sponsored Research Agreements, the MRA is a contract between MIT and the sponsor; it specifies the obligations of MIT and the sponsor in funding and conducting any scope of work that MIT may propose for funding by that sponsor.

As an alternative to an MRA, MIT and many sponsors prefer to execute an individual Sponsored Research Agreement (SRA) for each research project, using an SRA Template pre-negotiated by MIT and that sponsor to speed up the process of approving new research awards.

Master Research Agreements

As with Sponsored Research Agreements, MRAs may include terms governing the following:

  • Publication of the research results
  • Intellectual property arising from the research
  • Care of data and confidential information exchanged during the research
  • Transfer of materials
  • Software provision and licensing
  • Compliance with export control and other laws and regulations
  • Use of MIT’s name
  • Rights and procedures to terminate the project
  • Taxes, insurance, warranties, liability, governing law, and other items necessary for contracts

With MRAs, however, all the project-specific information is combined into an addendum. The addendum is a form that is pre-approved by the sponsor and MIT, into which a principal investigator inserts the full information required for the sponsor to review, accept, and award the proposal. An addendum frequently contains the following:

  • Scope of work to be conducted and associated budget
  • Payment obligations and timing
  • Management of the research project
  • Staffing of the research project
  • Schedules, milestones, and deliverables
  • Co-funding information (if any)
  • Background intellectual property information (if any)

MRAs are difficult to negotiate; they must anticipate any and all types of research that a sponsor might support at MIT in the future, for periods that vary from three to 20 years. The process for negotiating contractual terms and protections for MIT and the sponsor for such a long period into the future—and for as-yet-unknown research topics and projects—is difficult due to the challenges of anticipating all possible future activities by the sponsor at MIT. This complexity entails lengthy negotiations requiring many work hours by MIT administrators and principal investigators.

In addition, MRAs can be difficult for MIT to administer, because they may govern research in departments, laboratories, and centers across multiple schools over a long period of time. For this reason, MRAs should identify a Steering Committee department, laboratory, or center, or lead PI who will manage all the proposal and award processes under the MRA and who will ensure that researchers funded under the MRA comply with its terms.

For this reason, MIT will not negotiate MRA's unless a sponsor commits to an up-front, large, multiyear commitment to fund research at MIT through the MRA; and the MIT PI or unit responsible for administering the proposal and award processes for the MRA has been identified.

What does OSP need to prepare an MRA?

  1. A request from senior MIT leadership (e.g., Dean, Vice President of Research, Provost) to develop a Master Research Agreement to govern a major-level sponsored research relationship with a sponsor.
  2. A commitment by the sponsor to support MIT research at a major level over multiple years.
  3. A description of the topics and types of research that the sponsor anticipates funding under the MRA, with at least a partial list of the departments, laboratories, or centers in which the research may take place.
  4. An MIT PI, department, laboratory, or center who will commit to administering proposals and award processes under the MRA.

What is the process?

  1. The Director of Sponsored Programs should receive a request from MIT senior leadership to initiate development of a Master Research Agreement. Most often, the Vice President for Research is the requesting officer if the MRA will fund research in more than one school. Otherwise, a Dean may be the requesting officer if research in only one school will be supported through an MRA.
  2. This request should be followed by a routed proposal for the MRA outlining the range of work, total funding amount, time period, and identifying the individual and department, lab, or center that will administer the MRA awards.
  3. OSP’s Non-Federal Agreements Team will assign a contract specialist to manage MIT’s negotiation with the sponsor to develop a mutually acceptable Master Research Agreement for the intended relationship.
  4. Finally, the agreement will be signed by the sponsor and by the director of Sponsored Programs for MIT.
  5. Using the MRA’s Addendum, PIs subsequently prepare proposals one by one; they then submit the proposals to OSP for approval and submittal to the sponsor under the MRA’s specified process.

How long will this process take?

The length of time from the request to develop an MRA until the agreement is ready to sign can be five to 12 months; it depends upon the complexity of the agreement and what types of activities it must govern.

Potential complicating factors may include:

  • Developing tactics to anticipate cases where there may be multiple sponsors (co-funding) for a project
  • Complex intellectual property terms, both for MIT IP arising from research projects and from sponsor IP (software, equipment) provided to MIT for research projects
  • Requests and requirements by the sponsor that conflict with MIT policies, practices, or organizational structure
  • How quickly and fully the sponsor’s legal counsel responds to OSP’s communications

During MRA negotiations, the contract specialist often must consult with multiple MIT offices. The contract specialist will endeavor to provide regular updates on the progress of the negotiation to the MIT senior leader who requested the MRA, along with the department, laboratory, or center directors and/or PIs involved in the MRA development process.

The contract specialist will update you on the progress of the MRA negotiation.

Where to get help: Contact the Director of Sponsored Programs if you anticipate that a Master Research Agreement may need to be negotiated.

Sponsored Research Agreement (SRA) Templates

Unlike an MRA, an SRA Template is not signed once by MIT and the sponsor for all future projects. Instead, the SRA Template is a pre-negotiated form of agreement that can be quickly edited as needed to address the circumstances of any specific research project which the sponsor wishes to support.

As with Sponsored Research Agreements, SRA Templates may include pre-negotiated terms governing the following:

  • Payment obligations and timing
  • Background intellectual property information (if any)
  • Publication of the research results
  • Intellectual property arising from the research
  • Care of data and confidential information exchanged during the research
  • Transfer of materials
  • Software provision and licensing
  • Compliance with export control and other laws and regulations
  • Use of MIT’s name
  • Rights and procedures to terminate the project
  • Taxes, insurance, warranties, liability, governing law, and other items necessary for contracts

With SRA Templates, as with other single-project SRAs, project-specific information is incorporated through an addendum defining the following:

  • Scope of work to be conducted and associated budget
  • Schedules, milestones, and deliverables
  • Co-funding information (if any)
  • Management and staffing of the research project

Templates are less difficult to negotiate than MRAs; they do not need to anticipate all details for any types of research that a sponsor might support at MIT in the future. Rather, templates can be quite similar to MIT’s standard SRA Template; the sponsor and MIT can negotiate special language or additions when required for a specific research project.

For this reason, MIT prefers templates over MRAs when a sponsor anticipates the frequent funding of multiple research projects at MIT without a single, large funding commitment.

What does OSP need to prepare an SRA Template?

  1. A request from the sponsor’s senior leadership or senior counsel to develop an SRA Template to enable frequent future sponsored research engagements with MIT.
  2. A description of some of the topics and types of research that the sponsor anticipates funding with at least a partial list of the departments, laboratories, or centers in which the research may take place.

What is the process?

  1. OSP’s contract administrator receives a request from the sponsor’s senior leadership or senior counsel to initiate the development of an SRA Template.
  2. The contract administrator engages a contract specialist from OSP’s Non-Federal Agreements Team to negotiate with the sponsor to develop a mutually acceptable SRA Template for future use.
  3. When the template has been finalized, instructions are provided within the sponsor’s organization and OSP to use the SRA Template for future sponsored research agreements with that sponsor.
  4. PIs subsequently prepare proposals one by one through the normal OSP proposal approval and submittal process; however, the SRA Template for that sponsor is sent to the sponsor with the proposal rather than with MIT’s standard SRA.

How long will this process take?

The length of time from request to agreement on an SRA Template is unpredictable, but often is similar to that required by SRAs. If a first project has been identified to be funded using a template, the template can be derived from the Sponsored Research Agreement governing the first project and used thereafter, which can further shorten the time needed to agree upon the SRA Template.

Your contract administrator and contract specialist will update you on the progress of your CRA negotiation.

Where to get help: Contact the OSP contract administrator for your department, laboratory, or center.