The U.S. government has repeatedly expressed growing concerns about foreign governments obtaining unlicensed U.S. technology, and exerting inappropriate influence over federally funded research. U.S. government grantmaking agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the Department of Energy (DOE) have each announced actions addressing these concerns. These and other federal grant-making agencies are reminding grantees that all proposed engagements with foreign entities should be reciprocal, transparent, and aligned with academically based research terms and conditions that promote broad publication
With more than 50 project centers across six continents, numerous research projects with international collaborators (see map above for co-authored publications 2017-19)), and most recently the establishment of the Global School, WPI clearly encourages international collaborations and relationships. Global engagement is one of WPI’s core values.
However, it is important for our faculty and researchers, particularly those with federal funding, to be aware of the U.S. Government’s increasing concerns about foreign entities and their influence over federally funded research (see Sources below). In the past two years, federal agencies have emphasized the importance for individual investigators to disclose relationships and activities with foreign institutions and funding agencies. Failure to disclose foreign relationships and activities may jeopardize eligibility for future funding. It is important for our investigators to be transparent about their international relationships and activities.
We have compiled the following information to provide guidance and resources to help understand and comply with obligations to federal sponsors and other legal requirements.
Federal Attention Continues Over International Activities
Federal Agency Actions
Federal agencies have released a mix of broad and targeted information on foreign activities and disclosure obligations. These include:
- Circulating "Dear Colleague" Letters:
- Releasing revisions or additions to existing policy:
Guidance for Disclosing Foreign Activities and Engagements
WPI encourages its faculty to engage in foreign collaborations, but it is important to understand reporting obligations related to these activities. If unsure, err on the side of transparency when considering or reporting a foreign activity. The following guidance is provided so that faculty are aware of what they have to disclose, where they have to disclose, and who to contact for internal assistance.
Foreign Disclosure General Guidance for Principal Investigators
Read sponsor guidelines, Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs), proposal questions, and award documents carefully to ensure that you and other project personnel are correctly answering the questions that address foreign engagements, foreign affiliations, and Foreign Components and collaborations, as required by the sponsor.
Review agency definitions to verify that your interpretation of your sponsor's Terms and Definitions is correct. The Office of Sponsored Programs and your sponsor's program and grants management staff can be contacted with questions about definitions.
Approach the Office of Sponsored Programs with internal questions concerning activities being proposed in a foreign country and identify the foreign countries where the research activities are being conducted.
Cite in manuscripts only the funding which specifically supports the work in the publication. Do not cite unrelated financial support in publications.
Understanding Foreign Components within a Research Project
Foreign Components of research include locations outside of the U.S. where a significant scientific element or segment of a project is performed, either by the recipient or by a researcher employed by a foreign organization, whether or not grant funds are expended outside the U.S.
Principal Investigators should review current projects to ensure that all Foreign Components have been disclosed through progress reports and final technical reports, and to obtain prior approval when adding a Foreign Component to an existing federal award. All new proposals must include a clear description of all Foreign Components. Sponsors have varying requirements to disclose foreign components, so it is important to understand each sponsor's proposal instructions before submission.
Please contact the Office of Sponsored Programs if you have questions.
Understanding Other Support for a Research Project
Other Support, sometimes referred to as "current and pending support" or "active and pending support" typically includes all resources, regardless of monetary value, available in direct support of an individual's research endeavors. Principal Investigators should review each funding application to ensure that all Other Support is disclosed as required by their federal sponsors, and that it is reported in the proper section of the application. Federal agencies closely review Other Support to ensure that no time commitment or budgetary overlap exists, and that there is no scientific duplication.
For more detailed information on how to how to disclose Foreign Components and Other Support to NIH, NSF and DOD, please consult the OSP website.
Understanding Export Controls
U.S. export laws regulate the shipment, transfer, or disclosure of physical exports, technical data, and software to foreign countries or to foreign persons, including our students and faculty, and entities within the U.S. Federal export regulations govern shipments and releases of certain sensitive commodities, technologies, and software to non-U.S. locations and persons. In addition, economic sanctions rules can significantly affect educational and research activities involving Cuba, Iran, Syria, North Korea, and the Crimea region of Ukraine. These laws aim to protect U.S. national security, economic interests, and foreign policy. Moreover, these laws restrict exports to certain entities and individuals, including some academic institutions in some countries, as well as the sharing of technologies with individuals affiliated with those entities while in the United States.
Faculty and staff who engage in any of these activities should be aware of export controls and how they apply in each case. For more information, please refer to our Export Control Guidelines. Also, Gabe Johnson, WPI's Export Control Officer, is available to provide training, or review individual situations upon request.
Understanding International Visiting Scientists
Academic Visitors are individuals supported by other academic institutions or companies (foreign or domestic) who receive an invitation from a WPI host school or department to be a guest on our campus for a specified amount of time and for a specific academic or research purpose. WPI fully supports the hosting of foreign visitors for academic or research collaborations.
Departments are responsible for verifying the eligible visa status of their visiting scientists, and certain visa statuses are not eligible to serve as visiting scientists. Please contact International Faculty and Scholars Services for assistance with any visa-related issues. International visitors are a welcome addition to our campus, and the University supports such collaborations. Visitors (foreign or domestic) who are working alongside University personnel are expected to have on file with their department an offer letter prior to work being undertaken.
The University's process for hiring visiting researchers and post-docs is managed by The Vice Provost for Research. Please contact Camille Bouchard-Chhoeuk for assistance.
Understanding International Intellectual Property (IP) Rights
Intellectual property (IP) refers to innovations that the law protects from unauthorized use by others. Main forms of IP include patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. In an international research setting, IP protects the following: drugs, devices, software codes, curriculum, reagents, and data. Faculty and staff should report inventions and disclose Intellectual Property that may need to be protected through the Office of Technology Commercialization. You may also want to refer to WPI's IP policy for further information about WPI's processes regarding disclosing and protecting intellectual property.
Patents are contracts between the governments and inventors: In the case of the U.S., disclosure in exchange for the right to exclude others from making, using, selling, offering for sale the invention in the U.S., or importing the invention into the U.S. In addition, patents are geographically restricted (filed country by country where protection is desired), and administered by a country's patent office. Therefore, U.S. patents do not protect IP outside of the United States. Further, publicly disclosing an innovation
before appropriate patent application filing may prevent an innovator's ability to obtain patent protection on that discovery in international settings.
U.S. Copyrights are a form of protection provided by U.S. law to the authors of "original works of authorship," including software. Copyright protection automatically arises once an original effort has been fixed in a tangible medium, and can be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.
Protection against unauthorized use in a particular country depends on the laws of that country. Many countries offer protection to foreign works under certain conditions that have been greatly simplified by international copyright treaties and conventions. The United States has copyright relations with most countries throughout the world, and as a result of these agreements, we honor each other's citizens' copyrights.
Trademarks and Service Marks refer to words, names, symbols, devices, or any combination of these used, or intended to be used, in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods or services of one manufacturer or seller from those sold by others, and to indicate the source of the goods or services. Trademarks can be renewed forever as long as they are being used in commerce. Trademark rights are geographically restricted and are administered by each country's trademark office.
is available for any questions related to intellectual property, patents, copyrights, or trademarks.
Understanding Foreign Gifts and Donations
WPI through its Division of Advancement cultivates and manages relationships with contributors, alumni, and other constituents to generate support for teaching, research and public service. All gifts and donations meant to benefit WPI are subject to accounting rules and other federal reporting requirements, such as section 117 of the Higher Education Act. This Act requires academic institutions such as WPI to report foreign gifts and contracts that meet certain dollar thresholds to the U.S. Department of Education on a bi-annual basis.
Gifts and donations can be monetary or in-kind and must be reviewed, approved, and processed through Advancement so that the University can properly account for the funds and manage the important relationships that are behind each gift or donation. Please contact Advancement with questions about gifts or donations.
Foreign Talent Programs
WPI faculty should also be aware of the increased federal scrutiny being given to foreign talent programs, such as China's Thousand Talent Program, and that participation in one of these programs must be disclosed within applications to federal sponsors, as well as internally under WPI's Conflict of Interest Policy. Faculty are also required to proactively reach out to their supervisors to discuss participation in such programs to determine if there are/will be any potential conflict of commitment, duplication of research, and/or diversion of intellectual property that would occur during performance of federally funded research.
International Engagement Best Practices
Err on the side of transparency when considering or reporting a foreign activity.
Review current projects to ensure that all locations outside the U.S. where significant scientific activities are performed (Foreign Components) have been disclosed through progress reports and final technical reports. Obtain prior approval when adding a Foreign Component to an existing federal award. All new proposals should include a clear description of all Foreign Components.
Review each funding application to ensure that all resources available in direct support of an individual’s research activities (Other Support) is disclosed as required by their federal sponsors.
Report inventions and disclose intellectual property that may need to be protected.
If a federal agency contacts you asking questions about your foreign disclosures, etc., please contact Gabe Johnson immediately for assistance.