Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth: Corporate Gifts Supporting Life Sciences Research

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Abstract

Context

Throughout the last decade a number of studies have been conducted to examine academic-industry research relationships. However, to our knowledge, no studies to date have empirically examined academic scientists' experience with research-related gifts from companies.

Objective

To examine the frequency, importance, and potential implications of research-related gifts from companies to academic life scientists.

Design

A mailed survey conducted in 1994 and 1995 of 3394 faculty who conduct life science research at the 50 universities that received the most research funding from the National Institutes of Health in 1993.

Setting

Research-intensive universities.

Participants

A total of 2167 of the 3394 faculty responded to the survey (response rate, 64%).

Main Outcome Measures

The percentage of faculty who received a research-related gift from a company in the last 3 years, the perceived importance of gifts to respondents' research, and what, if anything, the recipient thought the donor(s) expected in return for the gift.

Results

Forty-three percent of respondents received a research-related gift in the last 3 years independent of a grant or contract. The most frequently received gifts were biomaterials (24%), discretionary funds (15%), research equipment and trips to meetings (11% each), support for students (9%), and other research-related gifts (3%). Of those who received a gift, 66% reported the gift was important to their research. More than half of the recipients reported that donors expected the following in return for the gift: acknowledgment in publications (63%), that the gift not be passed on to a third party (60%), and that the gift be used only for the agreed-on purposes (59%). A total of 32% of recipients reported that the donor wanted prepublication review of any articles or reports stemming from the use of the gift, 30% indicated the company expected testing of their products, and 19% indicated that a donor expected ownership of all patentable results from the research in which a gift was used. However, what recipients thought donors expected differed by the type of gift received.

Conclusions

Research-related gifts are a common and important form of research support for academic life scientists. However, recipients frequently think that donors place restrictions and expect returns that may be problematic for recipients as well as institutions.

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