Advanced Photon Source

An Office of Science National User Facility

Demystifying User Agreements


Users often ask: What are user agreements? How do they affect users? What are the differences between the types of agreements? How are agreements administered? The following information is designed to help answer those questions.

For users who are not Argonne employees, a user agreement signed by the user’s home institution is a prerequisite for work at any of Argonne's five user facilities. The User Program Office administers User Agreements for the Laboratory and ensures that users are covered under an appropriate agreement before remote and/or physical site access is approved. Agreements are required to cover liability, intellectual property, and financial issues. During the user check-in process, users are required to sign a User Agreement Acknowledgement Form making them aware that an agreement is in force and that they accept and will comply with the terms of the agreement.

The most commonly used agreements at the APS are the non-proprietary and proprietary user agreements and the most frequently asked question the User Program Office gets is what are the differences between the agreements and what are the requirements. Below is a layman’s explanation.

If a user intends to publish their research results in the open scientific literature (making their research available to the public), then the work is considered non-proprietary. Users are not charged for “machine time,” users may retain title to their inventions, and the government retains a royalty-free license.

If, however, a user knows (or anticipates) that they may want to keep their research results private, then the work is considered proprietary. Users are charged for “machine time” on a full-cost recovery basis, may keep their results private, may retain title to their inventions, and the government holds limited rights.

Users conducting proprietary research must have a signed proprietary user agreement in place, set up a pre-funded proprietary user account with the APS, and identify the specific beam time to be considered proprietary on the ESAF form. General users are charged for the entire beam time assigned to the proposal. Partner users (CAT members and staff) can self-identify on the ESAF or, during the course of an experiment, declare a portion of the time as proprietary.

Users work can be solely non-proprietary, solely proprietary, or a combination of both. Identifying work as proprietary is done by the user, either during the registration process, proposal process, and/or on an ESAF. Users can perform research under other types of agreements as well. For instance, users from other federal agencies (e.g., NIST or NASA) or other national laboratories are required to be covered by a Federal Agency Agreement or a Bilateral Agreement, respectively.

Users can also work at the APS under Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) or Strategic Partnership Projects (SPPs, formerly known as Work for Others Agreements) or under more specialized agreements. A CRADA is a legal agreement between a federal laboratory and one or more nonfederal parties such as private industry and academia. CRADAs cover cost-shared research and development, where funds are provided by all parties for mutual benefit. The SPP program is a sponsored research program in which Argonne performs research for outside organizations, including private sector firms and federal agencies other than the U.S. Department of Energy. The entire cost to conduct the research is paid for by the client.

More detailed information on legal agreements can be found at: Questions pertaining to agreements should be directed to and questions pertaining to accounts and payments should be directed to

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