Material Transfer Agreements

Research Offices


Please try to obtain the material, before submitting a grant in which you describe experiments that will require use of the requested materials. If MTA negotiations are extended, or in those instances in which the parties cannot come to terms, the material may not be available. If the grant specifically names the material, a significant change in scope may be required.

What is a Material Transfer Agreement (MTA)?

MTAs are contracts that govern the transfer of tangible research materials between two or more organizations (universities, non-profit entities, or for-profit entities) for research purposes. The MTA contains terms and defines the rights of the provider and the recipient of the original materials and any derivatives made from those materials.


UTRF is a key organization at The University of Tennessee, which plays an important role in commercializing and otherwise making my research relevant in the real world. I'm always happy to work with the very capable people at UTRF.
-C. Neal Stewart, Professor and Ivan Racheff Chair of Excellence,
Department of Plant Sciences

Why is an MTA necessary?

(Source: Materials Transfer in Academic: 20 Questions and Answers, Council on Governmental Relations, 2003.)

The provider of material or data may feel an MTA is needed in the following circumstances:

I need to request research material from another institution - what do I need to do?

When you request material from another institution, you may receive an MTA ("incoming MTA") from the provider institution. You must submit that MTA to your campus research office ("RO") for review, approval, and signature. If you don't receive an MTA, check with your RO to make sure there aren't any conflicts.

Check with your RO ahead of time to see if the providing institution is a signatory to the UBMTA (Uniform Biological Material Transfer Agreement). If it is, and the other institution is agreeable, your RO may use a UBMTA Implementing Letter to expedite the review process.

The Uniform Biological Material Transfer Agreement (UBMTA) is a document approved by the Public Health Service and signed by a number of universities and non-profit institutions outlining approved terms of sharing biological materials. If both the provider and recipient institutions are signatories to the UBMTA, materials can be transferred under the terms of the UBMTA upon execution of an Implementing Letter for the particular transfer. Additional information about the UBMTA and a list of signatories is available here.

Each campus research office has different requirements for processing MTAs, so it is important to contact the office ahead of time to find out what should be submitted. For example, if biological or other potentially dangerous materials are being transferred, safety is a concern. Check with your RO to see what their requirements are regarding submission of the MTA to your campus Biosafety Office.

When your RO receives the MTA, it will submit a copy to the University of Tennessee Research Foundation.

Someone has requested research material from me - what do I need to do?

When you receive a request to send material to another institution ("outgoing MTA"), you must submit the request to your RO. Material should not be sent out without prior approval. Contact your RO for the items you should submit along with the MTA.

If biological or other potentially dangerous materials are included in the MTA, safety may be a concern. Check with your RO to see what their requirements are regarding submission of the MTA to your campus Biosafety Office.

UTRF will assist your RO in negotiating the terms of the MTA with the provider or recipient institution.

Who are the parties to an MTA?

What are the main issues that may cause a delay in approval of the MTA?

Infrequent issues may include approval of the material by the Biosafety Office (if approval from that office is required), the lack of urgency on the part of the provider/recipient, or the availability of approving officials to sign the document.

However, the primary reason for delays is that the parties do not agree on the terms of the MTA. It sometimes takes weeks or months for the parties to negotiate terms that are mutually acceptable. This is especially true when the provider/recipient is a for-profit company. In rare instances, the parties may not be able to come to terms that are mutually agreeable and the material may not be available to UT or, in the case of outgoing material, the other party.

Terms that are likely to extend the negotiation period include:

The parties have agreed on the terms, now what?

Please feel free to contact UTRF at any time after you have submitted a request, if you have questions about the status of your MTA.

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