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Working with Industry




Working with industry brings many benefits to faculty, students and UNC as a whole including:

  • Access to funding and intellectual property (drugs, devices, tests, etc.) held by the company
  • Practical uses for research
  • Access to small business federal grants such as Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants
  • Assistance commercializing your inventions
  • Income for UNC when licensing your inventions to outside companies
  • Capstone projects and service learning
  • Career opportunities for students through fellowships and internships
  • Job opportunities for graduates
  • Practical value to stake holders (e.g., community engagement)
  • Clear return on investment for state funding
  • Input about future directions and needs
  • Philanthropic support


Reaping the Benefits with the Industry Relations Team

The Industry Relations team works with the industry and university leadership to help enhance the benefits outlined above and navigate the challenges outlined below (along with any not listed). Our job is to find relationship opportunities, but we have to protect UNC and its employees during those discussions and when entering agreements. We make sure that both sides are fully aware of any “strings attached” to private funding and university-industry relationships. Although we cannot guarantee that all attempts to obtain industry-sponsored research or partnerships will come to fruition, we aim to make the process as painless as possible while still protecting your interests and that of the UNC.

Challenges & Solutions

As with any relationship, there can be challenges when working with industry partners. Here are some common examples along with the solutions successfully facilitated by the Industry Relations team. Every project and discussion is unique, so we are always finding new ways to help you establish and maintain your relationships!


Confidentiality – Keeping sensitive (proprietary) information confidential before, during and even after the project

Our Solutions

Upfront discussions with the industry partner to discuss everyone’s position in these areas and then careful negotiations of the agreement terms and conditions. Before discussions take place, get a mutual non-disclosure (confidentiality) agreement in place to protect UNC and the company prior to the project starting. If we use the UNC template, we can often get it submitted, signed and ready for a discussion within 24 hours. If you’ve decided to do the project, we can then get a project agreement in place that has more confidentiality terms and conditions.

A Gift with Strings – Wanting to give a gift but get something (data, intellectual property, etc.) out of the deal

Determine if this is really a sponsored research study and get an agreement. They do take time to negotiate, but agreements are extremely important because they outline expectations from both sides and protect each side if those expectations are not met. The Industry Relations team can help determine the appropriate course of action for your particular project.

IP and Data – Keeping all intellectual property and data ownership in the hands of the industry partner until they deem it ready for dissemination or termination

Upfront discussions with the industry partner to discuss everyone’s position in these areas and then careful negotiations of the agreement terms and conditions. The Industry Relations team works with the industry partners as well as the UNC Office of Sponsored Research (OSR Industry Contracting) and Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC) to ensure the faculty retains their right to publish and everyone gets the appropriate access to the data and intellectual property resulting from the project.

Short Timelines and Deliverables – Needing quick timelines and deliverables (e.g., reports)

Upfront discussions with the industry partner to discuss everyone’s needs, a previously agreed-upon scope of work and time frame for completion, and then careful negotiations of the agreement terms and conditions. The Industry Relations team makes sure everyone is on the same page and we include our own rate-limiting needs too (e.g., student graduation, personnel/space availability, time to execute paperwork, getting materials to initiate the project, etc).

Funding and Engagement Opportunities

Industry-sponsored projects are research projects that involve intellectual property shared by both parties and funded by industry. Funds for such projects can come in as grants or contracts and may be investigator-initiated (we contact them with an idea) or industry-initiated (they contact us with an idea). Industry sponsors may use a grant mechanism to give out funds, whereby you submit an application to a posted funding opportunity announcement (FOA) with a Request for Applications (RFA) or Proposals (RFP) and compete with other individuals for the money.  Depending on the call and industry sponsor, the money may actually come in as a gift instead of a grant. Although the mechanism would be similar, a gift would change how the application should be structured, so read the fine print and ask the Industry Relations team for help! If you want to know what corporate funding opportunities are available, join our listserv for regular updates or take a look at our Funding Opportunities page for more information.

Alternatively, many industry sponsors target universities or faculty with specific requests or ideas (or vice versa!). If, after a lot of discussion, we decide to do the proposed study, this research comes into the university as an award (someone is ready to fund the study) and with a contract/agreement, scope/statement of work, budget, and deliverables. Budgets for these projects are subject to indirect costs at the same rate as federal grants. The Industry Relations team can help to facilitate the initial discussions and move the paperwork through the system. Negotiations of the actual contract are done by the Office of Industry Contracting team.

Gifts are philanthropic donations given without any expected return on investment (i.e., no deliverables), may be tax-deductible, and can come in as monies or in-kind donations. Depending on the donor’s wishes, monetary gifts may be unrestricted (money can be used for anything) or have restrictions (money is earmarked for certain things). Development officers at the university or department-level are involved with these transactions. Industry provides gifts via an associated foundation or through the company itself when it aligns with their strategic goals and overall mission.

Gifts In-kind are non-cash contributions (e.g., equipment, computers, software program access, or even a supply of drugs, devices or other products) provided by a third party source. This type of gift is often not recorded as part of the relationship with a company, but it should be!  Please let the Industry Relations team know about these gifts so we can help bolster the relationship with this industry partner. Perhaps we can find ways to receive more gifts in-kind or even translate those gifts into research or major partnerships.



Agreements, Intellectual Property and Licensing

In short, a Confidential Disclosure Agreement [(CDA); also referred to as non-disclosure agreement (NDA) or secrecy agreement] is a legal agreement between parties that allows certain confidential information to be shared for a specific purpose (e.g., a proposed research study) yet restricts dissemination or a wider use. CDAs are commonly executed when two parties are considering a relationship/collaboration together and need to understand the other’s processes, methods, or technology solely for the purpose of evaluating the potential for a future relationship.

At UNC, you can have clinical and non-clinical CDAs as well as intellectual property CDAs for a business transaction related to licensing, patenting, or other relationship involving intellectual property (see agreement submission guidelines). For more information about CDAs, please go to the Office of Technology Commercialization website.

Research agreements are legal documents outlining expectations and consequences if those expectations are not met. They can take a bit of time to negotiate, but they’re worth the time to make sure everyone is on the same page. Every agreement includes terms and conditions (most importantly those for intellectual property and data use/ownership, liability and indemnification, publication rights) and includes a project-specific scope/statement of work, budget and list of deliverables. The Industry Relations team can help you develop the project-specific documents and then shepherd the agreement throughout the process, but the Office of Industry Contracting is responsible for negotiating the terms and conditions for research agreements funded by industry.

If you have an industry sponsor that is interested in doing multiple projects over time, ask the Industry Relations team about a master research agreement (available for clinical and non-clinical projects). The Office of Industry Contracting only has to negotiate the terms and conditions of the agreement once. Once executed, the agreement can be amended to include a project-specific task / work order (essentially an appendix). This type of agreement saves time in the long run, so it is worth considering if you know there will be future projects.

Clinical trial agreements have the same components as research agreements but the details are starkly different, especially when it comes to intellectual property and data use/ownership. Similar to research agreements, you can have a single clinical trial agreement or a master clinical trial agreement. For more information about clinical trials, please contact the Office of Clinical Trials. New clinical trial agreements are negotiated by the Office of Industry Contracting.

Service or Lab/testing agreements are available if the project falls into a fee-for-service category. No intellectual input; just a service that UNC performs.

Material Transfer Agreements (MTAs) are legal agreements that allow for the transfer of materials between parties. These may or may not have budgets. MTAs without budgets are negotiated by the Office of Technology Commercialization, but MTAs with budgets are negotiated by the Office of Sponsored Research. For more information about MTAs without budgets, please go to the Office of Technology Commercialization website.

Data Use/Transfer/Sharing Agreements (DUAs) are legal agreements that allow for the use, transfer and/or sharing of non-public data that includes some restrictions on its use. To determine when a DUA is needed, follow these guidelines.

It is important to consider intellectual property (IP) rights and ownership when developing projects with industry. The Office of Technology Commercialization handles all things related to UNC IP, including (but not limited to) patents, copyrights, trademarks, royalty sharing, licensing, commercialization of UNC IP, developing a start-up company, and inventions. Faculty are strongly encouraged to loop them into any and all conversations about IP as soon as possible.