A Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) is a legally binding contract that governs the transfer of tangible research materials or samples between two organizations. An MTA is typically used when an organization is providing the materials as a public service to support academic or scholarly research. Consistent with this purpose, the materials are typically provided either for free or for a nominal fee to cover costs. There is often no formal collaboration between the scientists exchanging materials, although MTA terms can be embedded in a research agreement (or an MTA simultaneously executed) when the parties anticipate materials will be exchanged during the research collaboration.
MTAs are used to transfer a broad array of materials, including biological materials (such as plant samples, reagents, cell lines, plasmids, and vectors), chemical compounds, engineering components, and even software and data. MTAs are considered “Incoming MTAs” when materials are being provided to a UCSB researcher from another organization, and “Outgoing MTAs”, when UCSB researchers wish to provide the materials to others. The only individuals with delegated authority to sign MTAs are TIA’s MTA Officer and Director.
The typical terms of an MTA are designed to protect the provider’s property interests in the material and, since most materials covered by MTAs are experimental, to protect the provider from liabilities that result from the recipient’s use. While many MTAs are relatively straightforward, particularly those between two nonprofit research institutions, MTAs can contain terms that can negatively impact a research program. For example, it is not uncommon for drafts of Incoming MTAs to contain publication restrictions, onerous intellectual property terms, or terms that conflict with the grants or contracts that fund the project. This is particularly common when the provider is sharing sensitive or proprietary materials. It is critical that all MTAs be carefully reviewed by the MTA officer before execution to assure the academic freedoms of UCSB researchers are protected.
If a UCSB researcher wishes to share research materials outside of UCSB, an Outgoing MTA is sometimes, but not always, required. For example, an Outgoing MTA is not required for the transfer of materials to a non-profit research organization for that organization’s internal research use as long as the UCSB researcher providing the materials obtains certain written understandings from the recipient. Additionally, transfers of unmodified, naturally-occurring, non-hazardous materials that do not contain any human or animal tissue (such as a sample of granite) do not require an Outgoing MTA. An Outgoing MTA is provided at any time upon request, is required in many circumstances and is strongly encouraged if the materials to be transferred relate to a patentable invention. For details of when an Outgoing MTA is, and is not, required, please see Section III of the Office of Research’s Research Circular E.1.
Even if an Outgoing MTA is not required, UCSB researchers still need to assure that any export control issues are identified and understood prior to transferring any materials outside the United States. Please contact the UCSB Compliance Officer for more information on export controls.
Frequently, investigators are asked to sign the MTA by companies or research institutions. However, since the MTA is a contract, the official signature can only come from those at UCSB who are charged with the task of reviewing them and who have been delegated authority to bind the Regents of the University of California contractually. TIA is the only office with authority and responsibility for the negotiation and execution of material transfer agreements. Within TIA, the MTA Officer and the TIA Director have delegated authority to sign MTAs.
Please note that if you are requesting a dataset as part of the material transfer agreement, depending on the circumstances, the material transfer agreement may require that certain data security terms are followed. To learn more, click here.
If you would like to provide or receive materials, please complete either the Incoming or Outgoing MTA Request Form, which provides the MTA Officer with the critical information needed to review and negotiate appropriate MTA terms.
More Information about MTAs
- Office of Research’s Research Circular E.1.
- Materials Transfer in Academia – 20 Questions and Answers by the Council on Government Relations
- Research Data Security – Guidance for Principal Investigators
Select Policies Regarding MTAs
- UC Principles Regarding Rights to Future Research Results in University Agreements with External Parties
- NIH/Public Health Service Policy Relating to Distribution of Unique Research Resources Produced with NIH/PHS Funding
- NIH/PHS Policy on Sharing of Model Organisms for Biomedical Research
Please visit our forms page.
UCSB MTA Contact
Material Transfer Officer