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Selected highlights from the many research resources online at the Smithsonian.



The Smithsonian Institution claims ownership of all intellectual property created by its employees with certain exceptions. Smithsonian staff should contact the Office of General counsel for more information about current institutional policies.

This chapter explains the following rules and regulations:

  • Premature disclosure of ideas
  • Publication terms and conditions
  • Copyright provisions
  • Patents and inventions
  • Misconduct in research


If a Principal Investigator wishes to protect ideas, information, and data contained in a proposal to a Federal agency against improper use by others and premature disclosure to the public , the Principal Investigator may consider including the following or similar general statement on the proposal face page:

"The contents of this proposal may not be disclosed to the public beyond the normal distribution necessary for proper review and evaluation for possible funding, nor used by the sponsor for any other purpose, without the express written approval of the Principal Investigator (or Project Director)."

Alternatively, specific portions of the proposal may be prefaced, on each page containing individual salary information or proprietary scientific information or data, with a legend similar to the following:

"Following in information that the Smithsonian considers proprietary. The Smithsonian requests that this information not be released to persons outside the sponsoring organization, except for evaluation purposes of this proposal."


The Charter of the Smithsonian carries a mandate for the "increase and diffusion of knowledge. "Therefore, any grant or contract that may be awarded must be unclassified to that there are no restrictions of the right of the Smithsonian to publish findings that result from the project.

The Smithsonian does not accept sponsorship of research projects restricting publication of the results of the project or prohibiting the free exchange of ideas. If a sponsor requests terms that are too restrictive, OSP seeks adjustment of these terms when negotiating the agreement, consulting with the Principal Investigator, as appropriate.


Counsel has provided the following interpretation of the Copyright Act. The work products of Smithsonian federal employees generally have been considered to be in the "public domain," just as are the work products of government employees whose salaries are paid by appropriated funds in the various Federal agencies. The work products of trust fund employees may result in a copyright interest that belongs to the Smithsonian, absent an individual agreement to the contrary.

In the university community, professors are frequently allowed to retain copyrights to their lectures and, sometimes, to their publications. Occasionally the rights are shared between the professor and the university. In the case of trust fund employees, the Smithsonian has the flexibility to approve similar accommodation in an individual case, but careful record keeping is required to ensure that the shares are appropriate.

For more information on Smithsonian copyright policy, please refer to the Office of General Counsel.

Any arrangement relating to copyright matters involving a sponsored project should be referred to OSP, who consults with the Office of the General Counsel, as needed. In addition to Smithsonian policies, some sponsors have established regulations governing the copyright and/or publication of the results of understanding among the Principal Investigator, the Smithsonian, and the sponsor should be reached regarding the right to copyright of any materials produced by the project.


The Smithsonian recognizes that patentable inventions may be made in the course of research on a sponsored project. Patents not only grant protection to the invention, they also permit professional recognition of the inventor. Some patentable inventions may have commercial applications, which, through licensing, could provide additional funds to support the work of the inventor or the inventor’s organizational unit

Under United States law, a patent application is not affected by a publication describing the invention if the application if filed within one year of such publication. For this reason, the process of filing for a patent should no affect the normal free flow and exchange of information. However, under the laws of most other countries, any prior publication describing an invention would bar the granting of a patent in those countries. Consequently, inventors should consider how the timing of a publication might affect the right to obtain a patent consider the United States.

Inventions conceived or reduced to practice in the course of Smithsonian employment, or using Smithsonian facilities or equipment, are normally considered to be intellectual property owned by the Smithsonian. Personnel must not enter into outside agreements regarding such inventions without first consulting with the Office of General Counsel. Inventions in the Smithsonian has no ownership interest may be donated to the Smithsonian for possible patenting.

To provide incentives for creativity and to encourage the disclosure of inventions, the Smithsonian will make decisions to obtain patents for inventions on the basis of intrinsic merit and not solely with regard to immediate commercial application. Inventors to whom patents are issued with be eligible for special recognition through cash awards. Non-inventor contributors to a successful invention process may also be considered for awards. Royalties received in excess of the allocated costs of the patent process normally will be made available to the originating unit as additional support for its mission. Above a reasonable threshold, net royalties could also assist in financing common expenditures, such as those of the Smithsonian central fellowship program or the Scholarly Studies Program. Should the Smithsonian decide not to pursue or to abandon the patenting of a disclosed invention, a transfer of patent rights to the inventor may be requested.

Further information about inventions, invention disclosure, and the patenting process can be found in the Smithsonian "Invention Disclosure" policy statement, Appendix P. The Smithsonian Patent Consultant or the Office of the General Counsel can provide advice on any matters related to inventions and patents.


Federal sponsoring agencies, such as the Public Health Service (PHS) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) regulate how the Smithsonian deals with and reports alleged or suspected misconduct in science involving research, research training, application for support of research training, or related activities for which Federal funds have been provided or requested. The Smithsonian condemns any form of dishonesty or misconduct in research, strives to maintain the highest standards of intellectual integrity in research endeavors, and deals forthrightly with possible misconduct associated with research. A climate of intellectual honesty implies that all scholars have an obligation to conduct research in a manner reflecting these principles. If it appears that an incident of misconduct has occurred, the Smithsonian will adhere to its procedures outlined in SD 604 A "Misconduct in Research." See Appendix Q.