NSF Important Notice #91
The following is our transcription of the text of NSF Important Notice
number 91 of March, 1983, concerning the use of NSF-funded University Instrumentation
for the benefit of third-party organizations. We have tried to make it
accurate, but we cannot be liable to you if there is a copying error we
have not found.
National Science Foundation
Office of the Director
Washington, DC. 20550
Notice No. 91
March 11. 1983
Subject: Principles Related to the Use and Operation of National
Science Foundation- Supported Research Instrumentation and Facilities
PRESIDENTS OF UNIVERSITIES AND COLLEGES
AND HEADS OF OTHER
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
Over the past several years the National Science Foundation (NSF) has
considered the development of a statement of principles and guidelines
for the use and operation of NSF-supported research instrumentation and
facilities. The following statement on "Principles Related to NSF-Supported
Research Instrumentation and Facilities" was unanimously adopted by the
National Science Board at its 241st meeting on January 21, 1983:
The National Science Foundation seeks the maximum productive
use of the Nation's scientific instrumentation and research expertise.
Ensuring that the highest quality instrumentation, facilities, and services
are available to scientific users, both academic and industrial, is a key
requirement , as are harmonious relations and cooperation between industry
and universities. Private research and testing laboratories, as well as
university, government, and industrial laboratories, have a contribution
The National Science Board recognizes that there may be circumstances
where NSF grantees use NSF-supported research instrumentation to provide
services in commerce for a fee, to an extent that such practice (1) detracts
from the performance of their obligation under the grant, and/or (2) may
have a material and deleterious effect on the success of private companies
engaged in the provision of equivalent services. It is contrary to the
NSF's intent for grantees to use NSF-supported research instrumentation
or facilities to provide services for a fee in direct competition with
private companies that provide equivalent services.
The attachment provides additional guidelines in this area.
(Signed) Edward A. Knapp
Important Notice 91
GUIDELINES RELATED TO THE USE AND OPERATION OF NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION-SUPPORTED
RESEARCH INSTRUMENTATION AND FACILITIES
The National Science Foundation Act of 1950, as amended, directs the National
Science Foundation (NSF) "to strengthen scientific research potential"
of the Nation. The NSF strives to support and stimulate the creation of
new scientific knowledge, to encourage the publication and distribution
of the results of research performed under its grants and to foster the
education and training of scientific and engineering personnel. The NSF
evaluates its programs in light of their ultimate contribution to the Nation's
citizens and the national economy.
NSF support for scientific and engineering research and for the purchase
of research instrumentation and facilities has centered on academic institutions.
Under certain conditions support is also provided for research in industry
and in non-academic not-for-profit organizations. Collaborative research
efforts between academic and industrial researchers are strongly encouraged.
In the past, concerns about use of NSF-supported instrumentation have
been raised by several groups.
Access to modern research instrumentation is essential to the health of
the Nation's science and engineering enterprise. Such access can provided
by dedicated equipment at a research institution, by common or shared in-house
research facilities, or by an outside source on a lease or service basis.
University scientists and engineers, asking whether research instrumentation
provided to them with NSF support may be used by or for the benefit of
commercial firms, and - if such use is approved- under what terms and financial
Industrial scientists and engineers, with interest in using such instrumentation,
particularly at major facilities, and supporting or cooperating with university
scientists and engineers doing research that uses the instrumentation.
Commercial research and service laboratories, concerned that NSF-supported
research instrumentation has been used on occasion by university personnel
to provide services that compete with commercial firms.
Commercial research and service laboratories, with interest in being considered
by the NSF as providers of instrumentation or services for NSF-supported
research or as managers for NSF-supported user facilities.
Given the high cost of modern research instrumentation and facilities,
it is important that access be provided in the most efficient manner and
that available instrumentation and facilities be as fully utilized as practical.
NSF therefore encourages the sharing of instrumentation -both among the
academic, industrial, and public sectors.
For-profit organizations may wish to use NSF-supported research instrumentation
and facilities at academic and not-for-profit institutions. While access
to highly specialized capabilities of for-profit organizations may also
be sought by academic and not-for-profit institutions, research instrumentation
at for-profit institutions usually involves no NSF monies. Despite our
preferences for sharing of instrumentation, it is contrary to the NSF's
intent for grantees to use NSF-supported research instrumentation or facilities
to provide services for a fee in direct competition with private companies
that provide equivalent services.
These guidelines should assist NSF grantees, contractors, and others in
matters related to the use and operation of instrumentation and facilities
obtained with NSF support. These guidelines are directed to academic and
other institutions that receive NSF support, in their relationships with
or affecting the for-profit sector of the scientific and engineering community.
The guidelines do not apply to research relationships between or among
academic institutions, Government-owned facilities or centers, or Federal,
state, or local governmental organizations.
However , even if the facility or instrumentation is unique, it should
be recognized that extensive or repeated use by for-profit researchers
may compromise the purposes for which the facility or instrumentation was
provided. Similarly, a series of individual cases that taken singly would
have little or no impact may cumulate to have substantial impact for commercial
suppliers of comparable services.
NSF emphasizes research in the academic sector because such research serves
the dual NSF mission of supporting fundamental research and educating future
scientists and engineers. This means , in many cases, that there are distinct
advantages to supporting research instrumentation and facilities sited
on the campuses.
However, in some cases the research and educational values of having such
instrumentation and facilities in the academic environment may be outweighed
by cost saving or operating efficiencies that can be achieved by having
similar instrumentation or facilities provided or operated by non-academic
organizations. This may be particularly true where specialized management
and maintenance personnel are required, or where the principal use of an
instrument or facility is in standardized testing or measurement that adds
little to the educational value of the research experience. At times a
non-academic organization may have technical or scientific capabilities
superior to those available in academia. Under any of these circumstances,
NSF grantees and contractors are encouraged to use services provided by
Proposals to establish and operate NSF-supported research facilities for
fundamental research and educational purposes usually will be considered
from all sources: academic, other not-for-profit, and for- profit organizations.
In considering such proposals, NSF will give due weight to the relative
advantages of the management and technical capabilities of each applicant
and to the potential differences in student access and availability for
educational purposes that each applicant can provide.
NSF-supported instrumentation or facilities may be used by or for the for-profit
sector only when such use does not constitute provision of services equivalent
to services available on a commercial basis. Equivalent commercial services
are considered not available when the instrumentation or facilities to
be used in performing them are unique, e.g., no commercial firm willing
to provide the service possesses either identical instruments or instruments
with essentially equal capabilities. Such uniqueness also may be due to
the availability of unique personal or organizational expertise or by the
proximity of the instruments in the case of fragile or perishable specimens.
Although each case should be judged individually, some examples may
help clarify what is expected:
In considering whether equivalent services are available on a commercial
basis in the United States, a facility or instrumentation operator should
assure that a reasonable search had been conducted for such services in
the commercial market. Such a search might include contact by the operator
with knowledgeable people in the scientific field involved, vendors of
similar testing services, or other researchers. Alternatively, the operator
might rely on written statements by the applicant for-profit organization
that it had canvassed suppliers of similar services and that it was unable
to obtain equivalent services for reasons set forth. The operator might
require the applicant to check with a sufficient number sources and document
the unavailability or describe the uniqueness of the facilities to the
operator's satisfaction in terms of performance limits, expertise, proximity
and perishability, or other legitimate distinguishing features.
Research requiring the use of a synchrotron light source is not presently
likely to entail questions of existing commercial capabilities or commercial
A small firm in the southeast asks a university within a half-day's drive
to perform a surface analysis on experimental material. The specimen is
fragile or perishable and must be hand carried. The work will require one
hour of instrument time. No repeat is expected. The nearest comparable
commercial instrumentation is approximately the same distance away. The
university should decide to refuse the request of the small company.
The same conditions prevail, except that the nearest comparable commercial
instrumentation is in Michigan. The small firm has checked with available
express parcel delivery services, and has concluded that the specimen would
be at risk because of its fragility or perishability and must be hand carried.
Considering the one hour of instrument time for an analysis that is not
expected to be repeated, together with the travel time required to hand
carry the sample, the university could decide to provide the requested
assistance in this case.
If no equivalent services are commercially available, then such services
may be made available to for- profit users at the option of the holder
of the NSF-supported instrumentation of facility at a fee to be negotiated
between the holder and the proposed user. In determining appropriate fees
consideration should be given to the nature of the research or services;
whether the results will be publicly available, or proprietary; and the
estimate of full cost of providing such services.
The NSF does not expect questions of uniqueness or appropriate fees to
be submitted to it for consideration or approval. NSF will not entertain
challenges or protests on individual cases. Any disagreement should be
handled in accordance with each instrumentation or facility operator's
own procedures. Before use of NSF-supported instrumentation or facilities
by or on behalf of for-profit organizations, operator institutions should
have policies and mechanisms for properly addressing the principles and
guidelines contained in this statement with respect to making reasonable
judgments on "uniqueness" and "equivalency" and with respect to providing
fair and adequate consideration of challenges to such findings.
Funds generated by charges for the use of unique NSF-supported instrumentation
or facilities by for- profit organizations should be used by the institution
holding the instrumentation or facilities to offset the cost of services,
to support the maintenance or operation of the instruments, or for the
further research or education in the sciences or engineering unless otherwise
provided by the NSF grant.
NSF strongly encourages collaborative research efforts between academic
and industrial scientists and engineers. Such research is regarded as though
it were solely academic for purposes of these guidelines. However, research
is regarded as collaborative only if both the academic and industrial researchers
have real and substantial personal intellectual involvement in joint planning
and conduct of experiments, observations, or the like. Arrangements in
which the academic researcher provides little beyond access to university
based instrumentation or facilities are not collaborative research as intended
here, nor is private consulting by an academic researcher. NSF recognizes
that collaborative research efforts may sometimes involve acquisition of
an instrument or facility using funds provided by a for-profit organization
together with funds provided by NSF, under an agreement which provides
the for-profit sponsor with special access or other benefits with respect
to the instrument or facility. NSF generally encourages such shared funding
and does not intend that these guidelines normally be an impediment to
such arrangements. However, where the primary interest of the for-profit
sponsor in such an arrangement is acquisition of services equivalently
available from the commercial sector, these guidelines apply.
A text copy of this document is available on application.
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Document last reviewed November 14th. 2002.