What is an MTA Exactly?

October 31, 2014

In a lab full of acronyms, it can be easy to not know what an “MTA” is or how it affects your work. However, MTAs can impact your ability to complete work efficiently and inexpensively, so it’s important to examine the basics of the MTA.

What is an MTA?

MTA is the abbreviation of the phrase “Material Transfer Agreement,” which refers to a contract between two parties that creates the rules and guidelines for the transfer of research materials such as reagents, software or plasmids between the institutions. MTAs typically feature one party giving the material and the other receiving. These contracts can help institutions share expensive or rare materials that are beneficial to outside researchers.

An MTA addresses complex issues tied to sharing materials in a lab setting, such as how liability and intellectual property rights related to the materials should be dealt with. As the University of Wisconsin pointed out, an MTA can be a safeguard against future risk as well as brokering a deal at the time of transfer.

“Future misunderstandings or disputes are avoided when there is an upfront agreement on terms governing the transfer and use of the material and any resulting publications or intellectual property,” the University explained.

MTAs often exist between two academic institutions, but they don’t need to. Some academic labs have relationships with industrial labs with which they receive or donate materials. When the MTA involves a for-profit entity, typically there are more restrictions and conditions to the agreement.

The modern MTA

MTAs can rewrite typical patent and intellectual property right protocols, if outlined before an invention or discovery. This can help protect the rights of both parties involved. Additionally, an MTA can include a variety of conditions specified by the two parties, including seemingly unrelated demands such as requesting donations to a charity.

The idea of sharing materials between institutions may seem like a no-brainer to anyone working in a lab, where materials and funding can be hard to come by. However, MTAs are not necessarily the best way to share these materials, because they can carry several problems.

As the University of California Berkeley explained, MTAs can cause plenty of headaches. The confidentiality agreements sometimes included may prevent scientists from fully sharing their data, which can limit the uses of their research. Intellectual property clauses in an MTA can also delay publication dates, interfere with research on sponsored projects and seed patents to the material lender. Some MTAs may even interfere with other MTAs.

In addition to the issues outlined by UC Berkeley, researchers may feel that the MTA process takes too long because they aren’t directly involved in negotiations. While it is important to reach an agreement that’s effective for both sides, it can cost both labs precious time that could be spent on research.

To avoid these issues, many prominent academic labs turn to third parties that work to connect materials with labs in need, without the delay or legal mess that comes with traditional MTAs. Companies, such as Kerafast, facilitate research by streamlining the way materials are shared by setting up the licensing. Rather than haggling over an MTA, institutions provide materials that other institutions can pick from in a way that feels more like ecommerce than contract negotiations.