A. Sponsored Projects

1. General

Research and scholarship on the part of the faculty are essential elements of university work. Accordingly, members of the faculty are encouraged to seek external financial support for their research projects. When such research is carried out by faculty members under the financial sponsorship of an outside organization, such as the federal government, the state government, foundations, or corporations, it is called sponsored research.

A sponsored research agreement, which may be either a grant, contract, or cooperative agreement, is an agreement between a sponsor and the university to engage in a project of mutual interest, meeting the mission of the university and the goals of the sponsor. The principal investigator is the resident expert who has the responsibility to carry out the proposed project. By submitting a research proposal, a researcher agrees to abide by the policies and the procedures of the university and the sponsor. Because trust in the integrity of Rice's research enterprise has accumulated over many decades and is one of the university's most valuable assets, all faculty have scholarly obligations to their colleagues and coworkers to ensure that their research is conducted honestly and that the results are reported truthfully.  All principal investigators with external funding also have legal and ethical obligations to the sponsors of their research, as well as to the university in its administrative role.

The funds from the sponsor will be categorized as either a gift or a grant depending upon a number of factors. Those factors include, but are not limited to, whether or not unexpended funds need to be returned to the sponsor, the level of reporting required, and whether a budget has been provided.  Generally, that research should be related to the academic programs of the departments involved and provide opportunities for graduate and/or undergraduate research training; however, individual researchers are free to pursue interesting and important leads that may arise during the conduct of research, subject only to the terms of the research agreement and other restrictions of the sponsor.  Depending on the terms of an award, sponsored projects may also include work that is focused on education and training.

2. Compensation

Faculty members engaged in sponsored projects may receive compensation for work on a supported research project consistent with federal and state regulations and laws, as well as the terms and conditions of the funding source and university policies. This includes charging a portion of their academic time to the grant: Policy 311: Salary Support Through Sponsored Projects. These faculty members may wish to continue their research during the summer months, and to the extent that funds of sponsored projects are available, may be compensated at their academic year base salary rate for up to three months a year consistent with the effort spent on the grant.  The total compensation received by a faculty member in any pay period from the university and from sponsored project funds may not, however, exceed the university-approved rate of pay for that faculty member. Faculty members on full-time academic year appointments have an approved monthly rate of one-ninth of their nine-month academic year salary.

3. Administration of Research at Rice

The vice provost for research has oversight of all the university's sponsored research activities and policies, and has established the following offices to help guide and expedite research: 301 Policy for the Submission and Administration of Sponsored Projects, negotiates and administers sub-contracts and non-industry sponsored agreements in collaboration with the Office of General Counsel, accepts federal awards on behalf of the university, accepts foundation and not-for-profit awards in collaboration with the Office of Corporate and Foundations Relations (OCFR), ensures awards meet federal and university compliance requirements, is the liaison for faculty and federal agencies for requests for information, records, awards and proposals in the university database, and is the official reporting unit of nonfinancial information for grants and contract proposals and awards. Additionally, SPARC manages the Conflict of Interest program, advises on questions related to export controls, research involving recombinant or synthetic DNA and facilitates human subject or animal research in conjunction with the appropriate oversight committees.

The Office of Technology Transfer is responsible for negotiating contracts for sponsored projects with industry, assisting faculty with commercializing technology created and developed at Rice and negotiating material-transfer agreements, confidentiality disclosure agreements, data use agreements, and industry sponsored research agreements.

The Office of Research provides support to faculty for grant writing and securing funding through the Office of Research Development and Infrastructure (ORDI), supports building partnerships with industry in partnership with Corporate Relations, and provides concierge services that assist with the preparation of grant applications through SPARC. The Office of Research is also responsible for the investigation and reporting of potential research misconduct.

Additionally, Research and Cost Accounting (RCA), under the vice president for finance, assists faculty with the financial management of all sponsored project awards ensuring compliance with sponsor and university requirements. Research and Cost Accounting sets up fund accounts for the expenditure of sponsored awards, prepares invoices for the sub-contracts, prepares financial reports as required by the sponsor, oversees the university's official unit for effort reporting, serves as the official contact and coordinator for external auditing groups, reviews expenditures and monitors compliance, and closes out awards and funds. Further, the Office of Information Security is available to assist faculty with information security and other data protection requirements.

4. Effort Reporting and Budgeting

Rice University is required to comply with federal regulations regarding effort certification of individuals paid from, or contributing to, sponsored programs. Effort reporting is required of all individuals who are either paid from any sponsored projects (whether or not sponsored with federal funds) or who commit time as cost sharing to such sponsored projects. The university has implemented a policy regarding who is subject to effort certification, the process, and training required: Policy 304: Effort Reporting. Because of the importance of this process, effort reporting training is required for first time PI's; additionally, Rice will hold proposals if the effort certifications are not submitted by the deadline.

All proposals for research should include a line in the budget for facilities and administrative (F&A) expenses. This is the rate used on sponsored projects, covering the facilities and administrative costs associated with supporting the research enterprise. It includes, but is not limited to, such items as building, equipment, sponsored projects administration, the library, and department administration. The determination for this rate is closely regulated by the federal government as it requires universities to submit a cost proposal and negotiate this rate periodically.

Any grant proposals or acceptances of grant awards for research that contains F&A at a rate that is less than the currently approved federal rate requires the approval of the Vice Provost for Research. Rice has implemented an F&A Return Program where each year through the budget process, a portion of the collected F&A is returned to the schools. The portion returned is based on the last completed fiscal year prior to the budget year. The goals of Rice's F&A return program are to: (1) further decentralize the allocation of unrestricted funds, (2) provide discretionary resources to the deans and departments to help advance priorities and (3) encourage an increase in Rice's effective F&A recovery rate by encouraging grants that generate F&A recovery. This is intended to help address the highest priority programmatic needs of schools and departments and provide funding to cover costs not allowable on grants.

Rice University has organizational units that provide goods and/or services in support of the University's mission and charge for those goods and services. It is the policy of the University that such charges must be consistent with sound business practices, Federal regulations and cost accounting and financial reporting principles: Policy 836: Service Center Policy. The University establishes such units as Service Centers to ensure compliance. This policy applies to all Rice units that charge for goods and services and users of such goods and services.

5. Other Responsibilities

Rice University expects all its members to maintain the highest standards of conduct in pursuing research and scholarly activities. This includes making sure that all faculty members are appropriately trained on our policies and procedures, and any regulatory requirements that might apply to the particular research area (e.g. export control, animal, human subject, genetic materials, etc). Moreover, the university has regulatory responsibilities to inform those participating in sponsored research activities of the funding agencies' research misconduct policies. The university therefore has developed policy guidance and procedures governing research integrity: Policy 324: Research Integrity.

The university has also implemented policies defining disclosures and where a potential "conflict of interest" might arise between a scholar's research and personal interests: Policy 216: Conflict of Interest and Commitment for Faculty (Including Faculty Fellows and Investigators) or conflicts of interest: 217.  Conflicts of Commitment and Outside Activities for Faculty. The provost makes an annual request for members of the university to identify potential conflicts of interest, but it is the responsibility of the individual researcher to report any conflict of interest that might arise throughout the year, which has not been previously reported. Faculty with federally sponsored projects should be aware of disclosure requirements to report, both domestic and foreign, financial support, appointments, affiliations, and collaborations in respective grant documents (i.e. other support, current/pending, biosketch, FCOI reports, etc. ) from federal agencies (i.e.National Institutes of HealthNational Science FoundationDepartment of EnergyDepartment of Defense, etc.). More details on the definition of conflict of interest and reporting duties are to be found in the section below on "Conflict of Interest" and in Policy 216.

If sponsored research will involve using personally identifiable information (as defined in Policy 808), then researchers must ensure that data is being appropriately collected and stored (in accordance with the grant terms and relevant law). Researchers should be aware of any regulatory requirements/restrictions related to their data (including those related to student information (FERPA), financial information (GLBA), health information (HIPAA), and data from the European Economic Area (GDPR). Additionally, if there is a data loss or breach which may involve the unauthorized access of personally identifiable information then the Office of Information Security must be notified immediately.

Finally, to ensure compliance with federal regulations, as well as protect faculty Intellectual Property, all faculty and staff who are involved in sponsored research must have on file an Intellectual Property Assignment Agreement before SPARC will accept an award.

6. University Policies Related to Research

Because of the variety of research being conducted and the mechanism sponsors use to fund such agreements, they are governed by several university policies. These policies are more specific than the general guidance provided here, and should be consulted directly. Please see the following:

B. Outside Work and Conflicts of Commitment

Consulting and other services to outside organizations, including industry and government, often constitute very desirable activities for the faculty. These services can provide a mechanism for enriching the professional experience of faculty members, thereby broadening their backgrounds for teaching and scholarly research. The university also has a responsibility to help in the transformation of results of research into products, services, and processes that will become available in the marketplace. In many instances, effecting such a transfer requires active participation of faculty members as advisors or consultants.

Such opportunities create the potential for a conflict of commitment between outside interests and responsibilities to the university. Even the appearance of a conflict can be harmful to both the faculty member and the university.

Conflicts of commitment may arise when there are competing demands upon the time and energy of a faculty member as a result of outside activities and interests that could interfere with the faculty member's ability to meet his/her responsibilities to the university. Rice expects that faculty members' outside activities and interests will not interfere with their ability to meet their primary obligations to the university. These responsibilities differ across schools and departments, but should be based on a general understanding between the school dean or department chair and the faculty member. Experience indicates that full-time faculty members have difficulty meeting their primary obligations if they spend more than the equivalent of one day a week on outside activities. See Policy 216: Conflict of Interest and Commitment for Faculty (Including Faculty Fellows and Investigators).

C. Conflicts of Interest

A "conflict of interest" may occur when scholars or their family members receive financial or personal benefit from outside activities and interests that are closely related to their research activities. Examples include participation in activities sponsored by for-profit entities; negotiation with companies; provision of litigation-support services; founding of start-up companies, or consulting with companies. Alternatively, even uncompensated activities, such as volunteering on the board of a non-profit organization, may result in a conflict of interest if the organization is affected by the outcomes of a scholar's work. These situations may compromise, or may have the appearance of compromising, a scholar's judgment while conducting research. No area of scholarship is exempt from real or potential conflicts of interest.

The principal means for managing potential conflicts of interest involves prior disclosure and a dialogue between a faculty member and her/his dean. The provost will make an annual request for such disclosures to all scholars. But at the same time, individual faculty members have the responsibility of informing their dean within 30 days if circumstances change, new research proposals are submitted, or income or interests that could constitute a conflict of interest are discovered. More information on defining and reporting potential conflicts of commitment may be found in Policy 216 and its related procedures document: Policy 216: Conflict of Interest and Commitment for Faculty (Including Faculty Fellows and Investigator) and Procedures for Policy 216.

Specific requirements exist concerning potential or real conflicts of interest for faculty members submitting proposals to certain federal agencies. These faculty members must file a disclosure statement with their dean.

Special guidelines apply to faculty members who are involved in purchasing supplies, services, and equipment for the university. Faculty members with the authority to commit university funds must disclose whether any potential conflict of interest exists when they request signature authority for the commitment of funds. This category of conflicts of interest is covered by Policy 838: Conflict of Interest.

Only in special cases may university equipment or facilities be used for services to an outside organization, including those controlled by faculty members, and then only with the explicit written approval of the department chair and dean or applicable vice president.

D. Intellectual Property

Rice University encourages the publication and display of original works and the uninhibited dissemination of new knowledge. Both academic freedom and quality education are served by these activities. As an institution where the faculty is expanding the frontiers of knowledge, Rice accepts its obligation to serve the public interest by ensuring that the best and most promising of the new discoveries, ideas, art, papers, books, computer software, and other works are made available for public use. Rice also recognizes that it must assist its faculty in properly disclosing their scholarly work, in complying with applicable laws and formal agreements, and in gaining the protection available under United States laws governing patents, copyrights, and trademarks.

It is important to understand that applying for patents, copyrights, and trademarks, which are classes of intellectual property, is a critically important step in achieving the university's objective of making research discoveries available for public use. Intellectual properties convey certain rights to their owners which can provide significant competitive advantage; this important aspect helps to motivate investment in the risky process of transforming a university developed research discovery into a bona fide product. Companies and Rice enter into contractual agreements, called licenses, whereby Rice conveys the right to use an invention in exchange for the company's development of the technology into a product(s), and (usually) fees and/or royalties.

Rice policy requires that all discoveries or creations (including software) made during the conduct of university research be disclosed to the university. If, upon evaluation, the university decides to seek intellectual property protection, the policy requires the inventor(s) or developer(s) to sign a legal document assigning ownership rights to Rice. Rice will then pursue, at its expense, any opportunities that may flow from the disclosed technology and will share any earnings with the inventor(s) or developer(s).

For more information on intellectual property issues, see Policy 333: Patent and Software Policies and Policy 334: Copyright Policy.

1. Patents

Patent laws protect useful, new, and non-obvious inventions (rather than the underlying ideas or concepts) in specified categories, including machines, devices, processes, methods, techniques, software, materials, compositions, substances, mixtures, and chemical compounds. A patent owner has the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention for a period of twenty years after the filing date of the patent.

When a potentially patentable invention is discovered or developed at the university, a confidential invention disclosure report should be submitted to the Office of Technology Transfer. Prompt reporting can be critical to obtaining patent protection for the invention in the U.S. and foreign countries. U.S. patent rights will be lost if the patent application is not filed within one year of a "trigger event," which includes public disclosure (including regular or web based publication, oral presentation, and proposals to government agencies), public use, commercial use, offer for sale, or sale of the invention. Most industrialized foreign countries do not have this one year grace period. In addition, if the invention was made with federal funding, it must be reported to the government by the Office of Technology Transfer accurately and on a timely basis. Therefore, it is important to identify the sources of any grant funding that supported the research or any research personnel (including students) when preparing the invention disclosure. It is also important to update that information when formally filing each patent for the invention disclosure.

Rice may elect to pursue patent protection and licensing of a disclosed invention, in which case any royalty income will be shared among the inventor, the inventor's department, and the university in percentages detailed in the policy. If the university declines to pursue patent protection for an invention, it will offer to return the intellectual property rights to the inventor(s), subject to the rights of any third party sponsor of the research which led to the invention. Generally when patentable inventions are discovered or developed in the course of research supported in whole or in part by federal funds, the government shall have a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free license to practice the subject invention. If rights are returned to the inventors and they elect to develop the technology for their own purposes, the university's name and trademarks may not be used for any promotional or commercial purposes without the prior written consent of the president.

2. Copyrights

Copyright laws protect forms of expression (rather than the underlying ideas, concepts, facts or information) for originally authored works in certain specified categories, including literary works (includes certain software); musical works (includes accompanying words); dramatic works (includes accompanying music); pantomimes and choreographic works; pictorial, graphic and sculptural works; motion pictures and other audiovisual works; sound recordings; and architectural works. A copyright owner has the exclusive right to reproduce the work, prepare derivative works, distribute copies of the work, publicly display the work, and publicly perform the work.

From time to time, faculty members may want to use the copyrighted works of others to supplement their research and teaching and to otherwise facilitate the university's mission of developing and transmitting knowledge. Under copyright law, the doctrine of "fair use" may allow such use (including making and distributing copies) without obtaining the permission of the copyright owner. "Fair use" is an equitable doctrine which limits a copyright owner's exclusive rights and requires a case-by-case analysis of the following four factors:

  • purpose or character of the use (noncommercial uses such as teaching, research, scholarship, comment, and criticism are better than commercial uses);
  • nature of the work (published works are easier to use than unpublished works);
  • amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the work as a whole; and
  • effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the work.

A copyright is created automatically when the work is first "fixed in a tangible medium of expression." Although neither a federal registration nor a copyright notice is required, a registration is necessary to file a suit for infringement in federal court, and a notice helps to prove both the owner's and the infringer's intent.

At the university, the author of a copyrightable work retains ownership of the copyright, subject to the rights of any third-party sponsor except for software works (see Policy 333: Patent and Software Policies) and for specific works that a faculty member has agreed to produce for the university (see Policy 334: Copyright Policy). Joint authors are persons who contribute to the work with the intention that their contributions be merged into an interdependent whole. Independent contractors retain copyright ownership for their works absent a proper written "work for hire" agreement and/or copyright assignment. Generally, when copyrightable works are developed in the course of research supported in whole or in part by federal funds, the government (including others acting for or on its behalf) shall have nonexclusive, worldwide, royalty-free license to use, reproduce, prepare derivative works of, distribute copies of, publicly display, and publicly perform, the work. Where appropriate, the university should be identified to reflect the institutional affiliation or support of the work; however, the university's name and trademarks may not be used for any promotional or commercial purposes without the prior written approval of the president.

3. Data Access and Management

In the process of their research, Rice University faculty, research staff, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and undergraduate students, inevitably make a record of their methods, approaches and findings, known broadly as research data. The university and the researchers have certain rights and responsibilities pertaining to the management of that data.

The research investigators have the right to use data for future research and to disseminate data to the broader community. This is subject to compliance with laws and regulations, as well as any contractual obligations, regarding the conduct of research. In addition, the research investigators must assist the university in fulfilling obligations related to the appropriate use of human and animal subjects, the safe use of hazardous materials, the protection of the university’s intellectual property rights, and compliance with the requirements of research sponsors and governmental agencies. Research data must also be protected to ensure that the university can effectively oversee and investigate any conflict of interest and research misconduct issues.

The details of this policy and an outline of procedures that a principal investigator must follow are found in Policy 308: Research Data Management.

4. The University's Name and Trademarks

The name of the university should be used in a faculty member's title to show institutional affiliation in connection with university-related work made public. The name of the university may not, however, be used for promotional purposes of a commercial nature without the written approval of the president.


Updated July 6, 2022