NRC-partner collaboration centres - guidelines


The NRC has established a creative new mechanism, Collaboration Centres, for leading-edge exploratory research, applied research, and commercialization; translational activities in support of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs); and/or to better integrate the NRC into regional ecosystems. It is intended these Centres would amplify the impact of large science and engineering facility assets, encourage collaboration, increase utilization of existing resources, and leverage additional sources of funding to support the pursuit of research excellence in areas in which Canada can excel.

Collaboration Centre objectives

The majority of Collaboration Centres are likely to be established for the purpose of developing internationally recognized expertise in a particular field. Others may be developed to ensure the NRC is better integrated into regional ecosystems, or other purposes as deemed appropriate. Each Collaboration Centre would have specific objectives, as agreed upon by the NRC and its partner(s), ranging from:

  • amplifying the impact of our respective large science and engineering facility assets
  • encouraging and facilitating enhanced collaboration
  • leveraging sources of funding and expertise
  • training, and gaining access to, highly-qualified personnel
  • contributing to discoveries and scientific advancement in fundamental research areas
  • developing intellectual property for the public good
  • translating state-of-the-art science and technology into industrial and other beneficial applications or
  • supporting regional clusters/ecosystems

The new ideas and knowledge generated through these Collaboration Centres would be captured in publications; patents; and the development of highly qualified personnel. The discoveries should be circulated among the Collaboration Centre, the participating NRC research centre(s) and the NRC’s partner, both of which should be engaged in the translation and commercialization of such developments.

These guidelines should be applied, as appropriate, to devise "fit for purpose" agreements including a Master Collaborative Centre Agreement; Licence to occupy NRC space or Lease agreement for the NRC to occupy space, and any Terms of reference for committees, which would collectively govern the Collaboration Centre relationship.

Establishing Collaboration Centres

Collaboration Centres are not be separate legal entities.

There must be a designated space (clearly identified as an NRC-partner Collaboration Centre) in which agreed upon research and development (R&D) activity will take place.

Because success depends on effective collaboration, it is highly desirable concepts be driven by researchers, who should pitch their ideas to their respective managers to attain a mandate to proceed.

Once the partner organizations Footnote1 agree it is desirable to explore the potential of establishing a Collaboration Centre, the Director General of the research centre (DGR) and the university Dean, or designated manager, may each identify a senior researcher to jointly lead the development of a proposal, which should address all elements outlined in these guidelines. A proposal, including any rationale for why the Collaboration Centre should vary, if it would, from what is proposed in these guidelines, would be formally approved by senior managers of the partner organizations.

A decision of whether to approve the proposal should be based on:

  • relevance of R&D focus to the partners’ future agendas
  • scientific leadership/excellence of researchers
  • ability of the NRC research centre and the university to allocate resources required
  • likelihood of achieving the goals of the Collaboration Centreother criteria of particular relevance to either party 

It may be appropriate, once the proposal has been endorsed, to enter into a Letter of Intent outlining the principles of agreement before proceeding with formal negotiation of the necessary agreements: Master Collaboration Centre Agreement; and Licence to occupy space for NRC premises or a Lease for NRC occupation of space in the Collaboration Centre partner’s premises.

The Master Collaboration Centre Agreement should be for a 5 to 7 year term, with an option for renewal and should include such things as:

  • objective/goal of working together
  • anticipated outputs and impacts
  • specific expertise the partners would bring to the Collaboration Centre
  • how the partners will collectively manage Collaboration Centre activity to ensure delivery of outputs and handle operational issues
  • how research projects will be selected; the contributions they will make in terms of resources, space, facilities, and equipment
  • how intellectual property will be managed
  • provide for an assessment and evaluation, a governing body, and other terms and conditions as appropriate

It is important to ensure the appropriate offices within both organizations responsible for any rental agreements are engaged at this stage.

Senior managers of both organizations should be kept engaged with the negotiation process so, in the event the arrangement is not proceeding as anticipated, they can seek the organization’s approval on any significant deviation.

The necessary approval and signature of the final Master Collaboration Centre Agreement and any Licence to occupy space or lease would follow the policies of the respective organizations.

Governance of Collaboration Centres

Collaboration Centres should have a governing body to:

  • oversee Collaboration Centre activity
  • ensure it remains focused on achieving its objectives
  • provide advice and guidance
  • ensure there is an assessment and evaluation undertaken (as outlined herein)
  • resolve any disputes

The governing body should have equal representatives from both organizations. NRC representatives may include the DGR and the responsible NRC vice-president. The Collaboration Centre Leader(s) (as set out in the section below) would also be a member(s). The Chair would be determined by the parties, but it is recommended it alternate between an NRC and a University representative.

In addition, depending on the size of the Collaboration Centre, and the desire of the parties, consideration may be given to constituting an advisory board / scientific committee to provide strategic advice on direction; R&D trends; relevant technology; innovation issues; opportunities; and any other matter the parties consider appropriate. If such a board is convened, it should include subject matter experts with global reputations.

The DGR and the equivalent partner representative should meet as required, but no less than twice a year, to assess performance and decide on any resource, staffing, performance, legal, or other issues.

Leadership of Collaboration Centres

There must be in situ leadership.

It is recommended that leadership be provided by one senior researcher from each organization, acting as co-leads, with responsibility for ensuring their organization lives up to its commitments and the collaboration is working well. Annual performance assessments of co-leads would be done in accordance with policies of the employing organization.

Alternatively, Collaboration Centres may opt to:

  • designate a senior researcher from either the NRC or the partner as an alternating lead for a term of 1 to 2 years, followed by a lead from the other organization for a similar length of time. Annual performance assessments would be done in accordance with policies of the employing organization; or
  • recruit an executive director who could report directly to both the DGR and an appropriate partner representative, which in the case of a university, would be the Dean of the most involved faculty. The university (using a joint panel including the Dean and the DGR) would hire the individual and the NRC could provide half the salary. The position could be seconded to the NRC and granted signing authority on any NRC-designated Collaboration Centre budget. Should this option be implemented, dual reporting should be managed to facilitate the smooth operation of the Collaboration Centre. Annual performance assessment of the executive director would be done by the Dean and the DGR jointly.

Regardless of the leadership option, individuals filling any position should have strong expertise relevant to Collaboration Centre activity; be recognized as thought leaders in their fields of expertise; be able to inspire and lead a team; work to create a shared vision of world-class research for the team; bring out the best in all Collaboration Centre personnel; and manage, and be accountable for, the performance of the Collaboration Centre team.

Any of the above leader(s) should have regular meetings with all Collaboration Centre personnel to review accomplishments; strategize about future work; and generally ensure the Centre is operating as expected. Any decisions should be made by consensus.

Activities conducted in Collaboration Centres

Each R&D project to be undertaken in a Collaboration Centre should be described in an Annex attached to the Master Collaboration Centre Agreement and should specify:

  • description of key tasks
  • schedule, milestones and deliverables
  • identification of key resources
  • cash or in-kind contributions and financial terms
  • any other project-specific terms

It is expected such projects will be carried out with resources each organization has committed to the Collaboration Centre.

Personnel associated with the Collaboration Centre

For it to be worthwhile to enter into Collaboration Centre agreements, a minimum critical mass is expected. However, it is recommended all Collaboration Centres start small, to build the relationship and establish a collaborative culture, before growing. As a minimum, to start, the NRC will provide:

  • six researchers
  • three technical staffone administrative staff

The university would provide:

  • six university faculty members
  • additional students and post-doctoral fellows

To help solidify university-NRC collaboration, consideration should be given to cost-sharing post-doctoral fellows, employed through the university, and co-supervised by an NRC scientist and a university professor.

Time dedicated to Collaboration Centre activities may vary per researcher, but it is expected, on average, 50% of both the NRC and the partner researchers’ time will be dedicated to Collaboration Centre activity (including research, publication, supervision of graduate students, and operations).

It is desirable that NRC researchers associated with a university Collaboration Centre attain Adjunct Professor status so they can be integrated into the academic environment.

It is expected university researchers would be the lead on grant applications associated with Collaboration Centre activity, but NRC researchers would be expected to be co-applicants and either receive funding directly (as grant terms and conditions permit), and/or have funding dedicated to support students or post-doctoral fellows supervised by them. With increased grant funding, Collaboration Centre researchers may acquire contract research support and technicians, hired in conformity with university policies. As a result, it is expected Collaboration Centres may grow to as many as ~40 people (12 researchers, 3 technicians, and 1 administrative position) and 24 students and post-doctoral fellows directly involved in conducting and/or managing projects.

Costs associated with the Collaboration Centre

The NRC and university personnel will remain employees of their host organizations and as such each organization will cover the cost of the salary, pension, benefits, and performance bonuses of their employees as well as the operational funding to support their work. It is expected research centres will contribute ~$1,000,000 in NRC salary and benefits.

Depending on the nature of the work, an NRC research centre may be required to provide up to $1,000,000 in operating funding for consumables, travel (including accommodation costs for some NRC researchers who may travel to work in a centre hosted by a partner), conferences, professional development for the NRC staff, and any required contribution to the salary of an executive director, as well as cash to be allocated to the university as leverage to facilitate university researchers to access grant funding.

Rental costs

Ideally NRC and Collaboration Centre partner researchers will work side by side in a designated space at "no cost" to the "tenant" partner. However, the NRC is required to recover operational and maintenance (O&M) costs. Some Collaboration Centre partners may have similar obligations to charge for space. Accordingly the partners, while being accountable for compliance with applicable rules and responsibilities, should exhibit flexibility in trying to achieve this cost neutral objective.

Access to facilities

Collaboration Centres may be in NRC facilities, the Collaborator Centre partner facilities, or space owned by another party.

If the Collaboration Centre is on NRC property, all university faculty, post-doctoral fellows, and students must undergo security clearance to ensure they can be granted full access to the facilities and equipment reasonably contemplated as being essential to carrying out Collaboration Centre activity. Similarly, if the Centre is on the partner’s site, NRC researchers, technicians, and any post-doctoral fellows or other students under their supervision, must comply with any security clearance requirements to gain full access to any equipment and/or facilities at the partner’s site.

Each party must comply with regulations and policies of the other party with regards to accessing that party’s premises.

Information technology (IT) support

Given the criticality of information technology systems for ensuring the ability to effectively collaborate and the need to ensure security of data, the NRC’s Knowledge and Information Technology Services Branch and the corresponding office at the university should be engaged in all matters relating to provisioning and support of information technology as well as the management of information and data.

Details of IT security, provisioning and support should be included as a critical part of the Master Collaboration Centre agreement.

Intellectual property (IP)

While IP generated by NRC employees acting in the scope of their duties (which would include all Collaboration Centre activity) vests in the Crown and as such is exploited by the NRC, universities, for example, have different IP policies under which the academic, or the university, may own the IP generated and/or have policies with respect to commercialization proceeds to which the academic is entitled.

The establishment of an appropriate IP Collaboration Centre framework will depend on the nature of the activity to be undertaken and the IP policy of the partner organization. The framework should be included in the Master Collaboration Centre agreement.


  • All Arising IP should be promptly disclosed and assessed. The Master Collaboration Centre Agreement should set out the disclosure process, ensuring both parties are apprised in a timely fashion of all arising IP, whether it is solely or jointly developed, and the assessment process to be followed.
  • Given their collaborative nature, it is likely most IP arising from the conduct of Collaboration Centre activity ("arising IP") will be jointly developed and jointly owned.
  • The NRC and the partner will grant each other a licence to their unencumbered background IP, if necessary, to carry out Collaboration Centre activity as described in the Project Annexes.
  • For exploratory research activity, it is anticipated most arising IP would be openly published.
  • For low technical readiness level (TRL), or pre-competitive research activity, arising IP would not be published until an exploitation assessment is done. 
  • If determined appropriate to protect any arising IP, publication would be deferred to enable attainment of that protection.
  • If the partner and the NRC agree arising IP is developed solely by an individual(s) from the NRC or solely by an individual(s) from the partner, unless negotiated otherwise, the organization employing the inventing researcher(s) will be responsible for its exploitation.
  • Should a co-supervised post-doctoral fellow (as noted in the personnel section above) develop, or contribute to the development of, IP in carrying out Collaboration Centre activity, his/her contribution would be considered a "joint" NRC/partner contribution, making the IP jointly owned.  
  • For jointly arising IP, the 2 organizations should determine which one will lead the exploitation of specific joint arising IP, considering the nature of the arising IP, the capacity of the organizations to effectively manage its exploitation, their ability to drive the highest return for Canada, and any other relevant matter. They should agree on a commercialization plan that includes the following elements:
    • how patenting costs are shared
    • who takes the lead on IP commercialization and licensing negotiations
    • what pre-existing IP is required to commercialize the new IP and under what terms it will be made available by the owner
    • how commercialization costs are shared
    • how licensees will be chosen
    • scope of licenses to be offered
    • how commercialization revenues are to be split
  • Any proceeds from the exploitation of arising IP will be shared with the inventors in accordance with the policies of their respective organizations.
  • For activity in direct support of third parties (including SMEs), protection, exploitation, and the licensing of any arising IP should be addressed in an agreement with that third party.
  • The NRC and the partner may grant each other any necessary licences that would permit the other to commercially exploit arising IP (joint or solely developed), on terms they deem appropriate.


Each party will be required to protect the other party’s confidential information for a period of 5 years.


It is assumed most publications arising from Collaboration Centre activity will have authors from both organizations and that each organization will have the opportunity to review it for purposes of assessing whether there may be a premature release of potentially commercially valuable Arising IP. If the NRC or the university wishes to seek patent protection for IP included in a proposed publication, it may request a publication delay of 6 months.

For publications, each contributing researcher should state they are associated with the NRC or the university, and if appropriate, indicate an affiliation with the Collaboration Centre.

If students need to disclose NRC confidential information when they submit theses or other documents as part of their degree requirements or when they defend a thesis, they will consult with the NRC to determine a means by which the information may be released. Members of thesis examining committees may be requested to sign confidentiality agreements.


All communications, including events, social media, and news releases, related to the Collaboration Centre should reference both the Collaboration Centre partner and the NRC, and should be reviewed and approved by both organizations.

With respect to social media, to allow the NRC and the Collaboration Centre partner to share or retweet information about projects, the NRC, partners, and recipients should provide the address of all social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Flickr, or others) on which they publish content related to Collaboration Centre activities and projects to allow for amplification of messages.

The "Canada" wordmark, easily recognizable as the Government of Canada, should be included in visuals on websites and promotional material, and receive the same prominence and proportion as logos and identifiers of other parties who make a similar contribution. Where space and circumstances allow, a credit line referring to the Government of Canada, such as the following, should accompany the wordmark:

  • "Funded by the Government of Canada."/ « Financé par le gouvernement du Canada. »
  • "This project is funded [in part] by the Government of Canada."/ « Ce projet est financé [en partie] par le gouvernement du Canada. »
  • "With the participation of the Government of Canada."/ « Avec la participation du gouvernement du Canada. »
  • "This project has been made possible [in part] by the Government of Canada."/ « Ce projet a été rendu possible [en partie] grâce au gouvernement du Canada. »

Assessment of success / evaluation

The Collaboration Centre must go through an assessment after its second year of operation. The NRC’s Office of Audit and Evaluation can help develop a self-assessment framework which would be used by the governing body to assess, for example, if governance mechanisms are in place and active; milestones are being met; what is, and is not, working; whether necessary reporting is taking place; early performance data indications; and if there are unintended barriers. It could then, if required, make any necessary mid-point adjustments.

The governing body would also ensure there is a formal evaluation 2 years before the expiry of the initial Collaboration Centre term to provide information to enable the parties to determine if it should be renewed. The evaluation would include a normal peer review processes to provide advice on the continued relevance, quality and impact of the Collaboration Centre. Costs of the assessment and evaluation would be shared by the 2 parties and the report would be directed to the NRC’s DGR and VPR and the appropriate partner representative(s).

The parties should collectively determine appropriate criteria and targets for accessing the success of a Collaboration Centre against its stated objectives, which could include:

  • number of unique intellectual assets co-developed with collaborators (disclosures, patents, publications, trade secrets)
  • nitation score of collaborative publications relative to world average
  • number of post-doctoral fellows and students trained at Centre
  • number of technologies used by clients and collaborators as a result of the Centre
  • number of technologies licensed (whether by the research centre or the Collaboration Centre partner) to external third parties
  • amount of grant funding generated

Based on the purpose, primary objectives, anticipated impact of the Collaboration Centre, and the concentration of activity devoted to advancing knowledge or translational/commercialization support activities, there would be differing levels of emphasis on the above suggested criteria.  Established criteria would be considered in the formal evaluation to be undertaken 2 years before its initial term expires.