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CNST NanoFab Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How do I get started?
  2. How long does it take to get a project started?
  3. Do I need to collaborate with a NIST researcher to work at the NanoFab?
  4. Am I eligible for the lower, reduced rates?  What is the difference between the full and reduced rate scales?
  5. Common questions about proprietary research and intellectual property:
  1. What is the difference between proprietary and nonproprietary research?
  2. When should I check the button indicating "This project will be proprietary"?
  3. I want to use the NanoFab to develop a proprietary product, am I therefore required to call it a proprietary project?
  4. What if there is a small proprietary element to our project but most of the work will use generic processes, or I will require training and assistance before I can perform the work myself?
  5. Will NIST have rights to my intellectual property?

 

1. How do I get started?

We strongly suggest that you begin by discussing your project with the NanoFab Manager. If you are new to nanofabrication, the NanoFab Manager can discuss with you possible ways to make or measure your nanoscale components. If you are experienced in nanofabrication, he can suggest what tools and processes we have available to meet your project needs. The NanoFab Manager can also provide you with an overview of the application process and payment options, along with the orientation and training requirements.

When you are ready to begin your new project, you will fill out a Project Application and return it to the NanoFab User Office.  A Facility User Coordinator will then guide you through the rest of the process.  See the Application Process - Quick Start Guide for step-by-step instructions.

2. How long does it take to get a project started?

The project application process is typically about two weeks from application submission to project approval.  Once a project is approved, an initial payment must be made and an orientation session is scheduled. There are a number of factors that affect how quickly you can come to NIST and get started in the NanoFab. First, we review applications every Tuesday; therefore, if you submit your application at 5 pm on a Monday, it will be reviewed that week. Second, as soon as possible, you should work with your organization and the NanoFab User Office to determine the most efficient way to transfer funds to the NanoFab sufficient to cover the estimated cost of your project (which is required before work can begin). Finally, you will need to be approved by NIST Security to access the NIST campus. If you already have a NIST badge, there are no additional access requirements. If you are a U.S. citizen or Permanent Resident, a badge providing access can be issued within a few days of project approval. If you are a foreign national, it will take at least an additional 30 days to be approved for a badge. However, during that time we may be able to arrange for a one or two day visit to complete orientation and some initial training to help you get started as quickly as possible.

3. Do I need to collaborate with a NIST researcher to work in the NanoFab?

Absolutely not. The NanoFab is accessible on an equal basis to researchers from industry, academia, NIST, and other government agencies, and identical rates are offered to everyone, both inside and outside of NIST. Although projects associated with NIST collaborations are welcome, there is no specific need to collaborate with a NIST staff member in order to use the NanoFab. Note that on-site collaboration with NIST generally requires a NIST Guest Researcher Agreement, which assigns certain intellectual property rights to NIST — rights not surrendered under the NanoFab Facilities Use Agreement one signs as a user from outside NIST.

4. Am I eligible for the lower, reduced rates? What is the difference between the full and reduced rate scale?

All NanoFab rates are based on the operating cost to the CNST. The CNST Director may authorize a non-proprietary NanoFab project to be charged reduced rates, with the balance of the project’s costs to be paid by the CNST. (By Department of Commerce policy, proprietary projects are not eligible for reduced rates.)  Reduced rates can be requested on the project application.  The decision to award reduced rates will be based on the extent to which the proposed project will develop innovative nanoscale measurement and fabrication capabilities to support nanoscale technology from discovery to production, including the likelihood of publications, patents, new processes, commercial products, and other outputs that benefit the public. You will be notified of this decision at the same time you are notified about the project’s approval. See Project Types and Associated Costs for additional information about this policy, and see the NanoFab Tool Usage Rates for a current list of the full and reduced rates. At its current budget appropriation, the CNST is able to contribute about 50 % of the cost to project approved for reduced rates.

5. Common questions about proprietary research and intellectual property:

The following are very brief summaries of complex topics. For more detailed discussions see Treatment of Intellectual Property and Proprietary Versus Non-proprietary Projects. Note that this is a complex topic and the following is provided as general information only. We recommend that you consult an attorney if you have concerns about disclosure of trade secrets or assignment of intellectual property rights.

     a. What is the difference between proprietary and nonproprietary research?

The distinction between proprietary and non-proprietary research in the NanoFab, which is a federal facility, is ultimately related to public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), not intellectual property. Proprietary information is generally defined as information that is not public knowledge and that is viewed as the property of the holder, with the holder of that information responsible to declare it and treat it as proprietary. The CNST expects the results of non-proprietary research to be freely shared with the public, either by the researchers themselves via publications and/or presentations, or by the CNST in the form of reports, web pages, etc.  

As a facility operated by the federal government, work performed at the CNST with the assistance of federal employees is generally subject to disclosure under FOIA. Therefore, if any federal employees will assist you in collecting the data for your project, with a few exceptions, the project will be non-proprietary.  Similarly, NIST and other federal government projects, except in unusual circumstances, are inherently non-proprietary. In general terms, you are doing proprietary research in the NanoFab if all the work will be performed directly by you and other members of your (non-federal) organization, and you do not intend to share with anyone outside your organization—including any members of the NanoFab staff— the specifics of what you are doing, how you are doing it, or what you learn.  See Proprietary Versus Non-proprietary Projects for a more in-depth discussion of this topic.

     b. When should I check the button indicating "This project will be proprietary"?

In general terms, a research project from outside NIST (or other laboratories operated by the federal government) should be proprietary only when the users do not intend to disclose the results or other aspects of the project to the public—including to any NIST employees in the NanoFab—and will be able to perform all the work in the NanoFab themselves. It is NIST policy that to preserve the proprietary nature of the data which result from use of the NanoFab, in a proprietary project the user “must obtain the measurement data directly and exclusively from the apparatus”; i.e., no NIST employees can be involved.  Also note that proprietary projects are not eligible for reduced rates.  It is important to recognize that, even for proprietary projects, information about the proposed work must be provided in sufficient detail to process and review the application, including to judge its merit, safety, and the NanoFab resources required.

     c. I want to use the NanoFab to develop a proprietary product, am I therefore required to call it a proprietary project?

The end use of something made or measured in the NanoFab is not what determines whether the project is proprietary, only the criteria for being a proprietary project as discussed in  Proprietary Versus Non-proprietary Projects.

     d. What if there is a small proprietary element to our project but most of the work will use generic processes, or I will require training and assistance before I can perform the work myself?

There is a simple approach to these situations that works well in most cases. We suggest you create two separate project applications, one for a non-proprietary project and one for a proprietary project. (You will receive two project numbers.) Use the non-proprietary project for the generic processes you are willing to share, such as base-line process development, and/or for acquiring sufficient proficiency to operate the needed tools and processes without NanoFab staff assistance. Then use the proprietary project for the work you would like to protect from public disclosure and will therefore perform by yourself.

     e. Will NIST have rights to my intellectual property?

NIST does not claim any inherent rights to inventions made in the course of any NanoFab project. Ownership and rights to any such inventions are determined solely by who the inventors are. Unless one of the inventors is a NIST employee or guest researcher, NIST will not have any rights to your invention. If you co-invent something with a NIST employee, NIST will jointly own that invention, with the same rights it would have for any intellectual property co-invented by a NIST federal employee.  

If you are a Domestic or Foreign Guest Researcher at NIST, you have granted NIST certain rights to inventions made during your work with NIST.  Please review your Guest Researcher Agreement for specific details.  

See Treatment of Intellectual Property for a more in-depth discussion of this topic.