New Horizon 2020 deal with US aims to boost research ties

20 Oct 2016 | News

European Commission hopes special arrangement will draw more US scientists to its research programme. US researchers will no longer have to sign contracts agreeing to share IP

The European Commission has signed a new cooperation agreement with the US government in the hope of increasing American participation in the Horizon 2020 research programme. 

Under the new arrangement US researchers can now partner with Horizon 2020-backed researchers without signing the programme’s formal grant agreement.

US Ambassador the EU Anthony Gardner said the new arrangement “unblocks” barriers to collaboration, with US researchers previously put off by sign-on conditions that many universities and institutes find excessive.

For instance, many US institutes will not agree to the requirement to share background technology and project results with all project members.

Rules on joint accountability are another sticking point. If a research institute or company drops out of a Horizon 2020 project, the remaining members are required to complete all the deliverables outlined under the grant, whereas under federal US grants, the original recipient is solely responsible.

More generally, there is the fear of disputes winding up in front of Belgian courts.

Despite these complexities, Harvard University participates in Horizon 2020. However, it routes grants through Harvard Global, a non-profit corporation with a separate legal status.

MIT, on the other hand, issues a warning on its website that participation in Horizon 2020 is “strongly discouraged”.

The new arrangement, which was nearly a year in the making, should ease US fears. “It simplifies cooperation by allowing researchers to work out mutually agreeable terms that respect one another’s rules,” said Kia Henry, a press officer with the US department of state.

Instead of adhering to the Horizon 2020 grant application, cross-Atlantic research terms can now be laid out in a memorandum of understanding.

Partners will also be free to reach their own common rules on intellectual property rights, data access and dissemination.

The arrangement “only makes sense”, with the US bringing its own money to the table, said Peter Tindemans, secretary-general of Euroscience.

“It would be rather curious if the Commission still would require such a partner to also sign the grant agreement which binds the partners who do receive funding from the Commission,” he said. 

Despite disagreements over terms and conditions, more than 60 US institutions are already part of consortia that have successfully applied for and been awarded Horizon 2020 grants.

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