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Like their colleagues in private industry, academic researchers need to think defensively when it comes to the use of research materials covered by patents.

Many university-based scientists may have systems in place already to document the equipment and materials used for experiments related to research financed by commercial sponsors. It is up to the company sponsoring the work to ensure that technology is licensed and the royalties paid.

But a drawn out legal battle has ended in what universities see as a restrictive reading of the "experimental use" exception to patent law, making it a good idea for bench scientists to account for the use of patented equipment and materials in their labs. An accounting system can be as simple as a notation in a lab notebook, or as complex as an additional column on time-tracking software. Even scientists who run their labs only on grant money may...

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