Managing International Research and Engagement

Heat map of Pitt collaborations world-wide, as measured by co-authored publications. Colors trend from blue to red to indicate more collaborations

The University of Pittsburgh is committed to supporting the global impact of its faculty, staff, and students. And so it is important to understand the current geopolitical environment and how our federal partners are responding to new global threats to U.S. economic and national security, especially those that affect our academic environment. Pitt offers multiple, effective resources to guide and protect faculty who may have international engagements.

Disclosure, both internal and external, is a fundamental tool for Pitt researchers and their collaborators, enabling them to manage risks and protect themselves. Pitt's Office of the Senior Vice Chancellor for Research, through the Office of Trade Compliance, has assembled the following information for the Pitt research community to understand the current regulatory landscape and reinforce the varying compliance obligations.

This information will be updated as additional guidance becomes available. Page last updated 2/21/24.

  International Engagement Best Practices

  • Err on the side of transparency when considering or reporting a foreign activity
  • Review current projects to ensure that all locations outside the U.S. where significant scientific activities are performed (Foreign Components) have been disclosed through progress reports and final technical reports. Obtain prior approval when adding a Foreign Component to an existing federal award. All new proposals should include a clear description of all Foreign Components
  • Review each funding application to ensure that all resources available in direct support of an individual’s research activities (Other Support) is disclosed as required by their federal sponsors
  • Report inventions and disclose Intellectual Property that may need to be protected
  • If a federal agency contacts you asking questions about your foreign disclosures, Foreign Components, etc., please contact: immediately for assistance

Federal Attention Continues Over International Activities

The U.S. government has repeatedly expressed growing concerns about foreign governments obtaining unlicensed U.S. technology, and exerting inappropriate influence over federally funded research. U.S. government grantmaking agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the Department of Energy (DOE) have each announced actions addressing these concerns. These and other federal grantmaking agencies are reminding grantees that all proposed engagements with foreign entities should be reciprocal, transparent, and aligned with academically based research terms and conditions that promote broad publication.

Federal Agency Actions

Circulating "Dear Colleague" Letters:
Releasing revisions or additions to existing policy:

Guidance for Disclosing Foreign Activities and Engagements

The University of Pittsburgh encourages its faculty to engage in foreign collaborations, but it is important to understand reporting obligations related to these activities. If unsure, err on the side of transparency when considering or reporting a foreign activity. The following guidance is provided so that faculty are aware of what they have to disclose, where they have to disclose, and who to contact for internal assistance.

Foreign Disclosure General Guidance for Principal Investigators
  • Read sponsor guidelines, Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs), proposal questions, and award documents carefully to ensure that you and other project personnel are correctly answering the questions that address foreign engagements, foreign affiliations, and Foreign Components and collaborations, as required by the sponsor
  • Review agency definitions to verify that your interpretation of your sponsor's Terms and Definitions is correct. The Office of Sponsored Programs and your sponsor's program and grants management staff can be contacted with questions about definitions
  • Approach the Office of Sponsored Programs with internal questions concerning activities being proposed in a foreign country and identify the foreign countries where the research activities are being conducted
  • Cite in manuscripts only the funding which specifically supports the work in the publication. Do not cite unrelated financial support in publications
Foreign Components within a Research Project

Foreign Components of research include locations outside of the U.S. where a significant scientific element or segment of a project is performed, either by the recipient or by a researcher employed by a foreign organization, whether or not grant funds are expended outside the U.S.

Principal Investigators should review current projects to ensure that all Foreign Components have been disclosed through progress reports and final technical reports, and to obtain prior approval when adding a Foreign Component to an existing federal award. All new proposals must include a clear description of all Foreign Components. Sponsors have varying requirements to disclose foreign components, so it is important to understand each sponsor's proposal instructions before submission.

Activities that meet this definition (per NIH) include, but are not limited to:

  • The involvement of human subjects or animals at a foreign location
  • Extensive foreign travel by recipient project staff for the purpose of data collection, surveying, sampling, and similar activities at a foreign location
  • Collaborations at a foreign site anticipated to result in co-authorship
  • Receipt of financial support (including travel support) or resources from a foreign entity; or
  • Samples exchanged for additional scientific investigation at a foreign location

Foreign travel for consultation unrelated to research activities is not considered a Foreign Component.

The Office of Sponsored Programs provides helpful information about disclosures. Please direct all questions related to disclosures to

Other Support for a Research Project

Other Support, sometimes referred to as "current and pending support" or "active and pending support" typically includes all resources, regardless of monetary value, available in direct support of an individual's research endeavors. Principal Investigators should review each funding application to ensure that all Other Support is disclosed as required by their federal sponsors, and that it is reported in the proper section of the application. Federal agencies closely review Other Support to ensure that no time commitment or budgetary overlap exists, and that there is no scientific duplication.  

Foreign Talent Program:

Pitt faculty should also be aware of the increased federal scrutiny being given to foreign talent programs, such as China's Thousand Talent Program, and that participation in one of these programs must be disclosed within applications to federal sponsors, as well as internally under Pitt's Conflict of Interest Policy for Research. Faculty are also required to proactively reach out to their supervisors to discuss participation in such programs to determine if there are/will be any potential conflict of commitment, duplication of research, and/or diversion of intellectual property that would occur during performance of federally funded research.

How to Disclose Foreign Components and Other Support to NIH, NSF and DOD:


NIH continues to revise its guidance on this topic and has created a helpful table that can be found at the following website:

Additional NIH Information:


NSF continues to revise its guidance on this topic and has created a helpful table that can be found at the following website:

​Additional NSF Information:​


  What to Disclose

Where to Disclose When to Disclose
Outside Appointments, both paid and unpaid Biosketch   Proposal
Related sources of support Other Support  Proposal

Additional DOD Information: DOD Memo: Actions for the Protections of Intellectual Property, Controlled Information, Key Personnel and Critical Technologies

The Office of Sponsored Programs provides helpful information about disclosures. Please direct all questions related to disclosures to

Conflicts of Interest

As defined in Pitt's Conflict of Interest Policy for Research, a "Conflict of Interest (COI) exists whenever personal, professional, commercial, or financial interests or activities outside of the University are, or have a reasonable potential of:

  1. Compromising a University Member's judgment;
  2. Biasing the nature or direction of scholarly research;
  3. Influencing a faculty or staff member's decision or behavior with respect to teaching and student affairs, appointments and promotions, uses of University resources, interactions with human subjects, or other matters of interest to the University; or
  4. Resulting in personal or immediate family member's gain or advancement to the detriment of the University or in ways prohibited by University policy."

According to the policy, "Conflict of Commitment exists when a University Member's external relationship or activities have, or will have, a reasonable potential to interfere or compete with the University's educational, research, or service mission or with that individual's ability or willingness to perform the full range of responsibilities associated with his or her position." 

University faculty and staff are responsible for making disclosures related to their outside activities to facilitate effective identification and management of conflicts of interest. Managing Conflicts of Interest often requires disclosure of the source and amount of outside personal income. Managing Conflicts of Commitment requires disclosure of the nature of outside professional activities and the amount of time spent on them.

Specific information on who must disclose and how, and answers to other FAQs, are available on the MyDisclosures website. The Conflict of Interest Office is also a valuable resource for any questions related to Conflicts of Interest and Conflicts of Commitment. 

International Intellectual Property (IP) Rights

Intellectual property (IP) refers to innovations that the law protects from unauthorized use by others. Main forms of IP include patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. In an international research setting, IP protects the following: drugs, devices, software codes, curriculum, reagents, and data. Faculty and staff should report inventions and disclose Intellectual Property that may need to be protected through The Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Patents are contracts between the governments and inventors: In the case of the U.S., disclosure in exchange for the right to exclude others from making, using, selling, offering for sale the invention in the U.S., or importing the invention into the U.S. In addition, patents are geographically restricted (filed country by country where protection is desired), and administered by a country's patent office. Therefore, U.S. patents do not protect IP outside of the United States. Further, publicly disclosing an innovation before appropriate patent application filing may prevent an innovator's ability to obtain patent protection on that discovery in international settings. 

U.S. Copyrights are a form of protection provided by U.S. law to the authors of "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, both published and unpublished. Copyright protection automatically arises once an original effort has been fixed in a tangible medium, and can be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.

Protection against unauthorized use in a particular country depends on the laws of that country. Many countries offer protection to foreign works under certain conditions that have been greatly simplified by international copyright treaties and conventions. The United States has copyright relations with most countries throughout the world, and as a result of these agreements, we honor each other's citizens' copyrights.

Trademarks and Service Marks refer to words, names, symbols, devices, or any combination of these used, or intended to be used, in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods or services of one manufacturer or seller from those sold by others, and to indicate the source of the goods or services. Trademarks can be renewed forever as long as they are being used in commerce. Trademark rights are geographically restricted and are administered by each country's trademark office.

The Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship is available for any questions related to intellectual property, patents, copyrights, or trademarks.

Export Controls

U.S. export laws regulate the shipment, transfer, or disclosure of physical exports, technical data, and software to foreign countries or to foreign persons, including our students and faculty, and entities within the U.S. These laws aim to protect U.S. national security, economic interests, and foreign policy.  Moreover, these laws restrict exports to certain entities and individuals, including some academic institutions in some countries, as well as the sharing of technologies with individuals affiliated with those entities while in the United States. 

Faculty and staff who engage in the following activities should be aware of export controls and how they apply in each case.  The Office of Trade Compliance is available to provide training, or review individual situations upon request. 

  • Shipments to foreign locations
  • Procurement of goods or services from foreign vendors
  • Payments to foreign nationals and foreign companies
  • Faculty and staff travel to foreign countries
  • Contracting with a foreign source
  • Hosting foreign visitors and delegations
  • Foreign national access to controlled chemicals, microorganisms and toxins
  • Research involving specific military applications
  • Research collaboration with a third party appearing on a U.S. restricted party list
Sharing Research Materials and Data with International Collaborators

In most cases, an international research collaboration requires the sharing of physical commodities, data sets, software, and other technologies under the scope of work.   Prior to sharing items with your foreign collaborators, it is important to understand some important import, export, ownership and contractual obligations in order to avoid unnecessary delays and to remain compliant with University policy and applicable local, state, and federal laws. 


In the course of planning for an international research collaboration, it is important to identify and determine ownership for each item that may be transferred to the prospective foreign collaborator.  Items such as data sets, software, biological samples, and other research tools created using University, government, or corporate funding carry different ownership and use conditions  It is important to understand the ownership and use conditions for each item before they are shared, so that the University is not in breach of any existing obligations.  The Office of Sponsored Programs and the Innovation Institute are both available to assist faculty in determining ownership and use of existing items. 


Once ownership and use conditions are determined for each item, you will need to have an appropriate agreement signed between Pitt and your foreign collaborator’s institution prior to starting any work or transferring any items.  The Office of Sponsored Programs has helpful information covering material transfer agreements (MTA), data use agreements (DUA), confidential disclosure agreements (CDA) , non-disclosure agreements (NDA), subcontracts, and research collaboration agreements, and can assist you in determining which agreement type is best suited for your situation.  If you are considering an international academic partnership, the University Center of International Studies has agreement information available on their Global Operations website, and can assist.

Outgoing Transfers (Exports):

All items shipped through a carrier or hand-carried onto a plane or boat and destined for a foreign country are considered exports under U.S. export control laws.  Some exports like biological and chemical samples, lasers, and munitions will occasionally require an export license prior to shipping or hand-carrying.  Even if an export license is not required, these types of items must be declared to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) prior to export using either CBP Form 4457 for personal items or CBP Form 4455 for research related items.  If you intend to hand-carry an items with you to a foreign location, the Office of Trade Compliance can review these items for you to determine federal export licensing requirements.  If you intend to ship an item to a foreign location, the University recently adopted a centralized shipping platform called ProShip which requires University senders to provide information that will satisfy CBP and export control regulations.  This system also identifies and electronically circulates for review shipments containing biological products, chemicals, batteries or fuel cells, or radioactive materials.  The Office of Trade Compliance (exports) and the Environmental Health and Safety Office (hazardous shipping) electronically review all shipments requiring one of these reviews. 

Incoming Transfers (Imports):

Items shipped from a foreign location into the U.S. are considered imports.  When importing items into the U.S., you should work with the sender to ensure that all shipping documents are filled out properly to avoid confiscation and associated fees from CBP.  The Office of Trade Compliance is available for questions about CBP forms and processes.

While most imports require a customs declaration, via CBP Form 6059B, some imports also require U.S. Government issued licenses and permits prior to import.  For example, items controlled under the U.S. Department of State International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) always require a license before being imported.  The following categories of items have restrictions when being imported into the U.S. The Office of Trade Compliance provides assistance to faculty who need to procure a U.S. government permit or license for an import:

  • Biological Specimens
  • Certain fish and wildlife, and products made from them
  • Some fruits, vegetables, plants, seeds, and soil
  • Items from embargoed countries

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has a webpage that contains helpful information on biological import requirements as well as links to other U.S. agencies that regulate imports. 

The following charts provide a quick reference for common activities and transactions involving international transfers, and who to contact for further guidance:


   Type of Activity or Transaction  When to Seek Guidance Pitt Office to Contact
A research collaboration with foreign institutions or individuals (financial) Prior to exchange of any information or items under a scope of work Office of Sponsored Programs
Incoming or outgoing transfer of materials, data, or technology (non-financial) Prior to sending or receiving any materials, data, or technology Office of Sponsored Programs
Protection of Pitt owned intellectual property (data, devices, samples, software) provided to a prospective foreign collaborator through a DUA, CDA, or NDA Prior to the development of a scope of work Office of Sponsored Programs and The Innovation Institute 
An international academic partnership Prior to signing any Memorandum of Understanding or Agreement University Center for International Studies, Global Operations

Outgoing Transfers (Exports) 

Type of Activity or Transaction When to Seek Guidance Pitt Office to Contact
Outgoing transfer (Export) via hand carry As far in advance of foreign travel as possible Office of Trade Compliance
Outgoing transfer (Export) via shipment Prior to creating a label in ProShip Office of Trade Compliance

Incoming Transfers (Imports)

  Type of Activity or Transaction When to Seek Guidance   Pitt Office to Contact
Incoming transfer (Import) of agricultural items, certain fish/wildlife, biologicals, chemicals or any item from an embargoed country At the time of purchase or prior to sender shipping goods or prior to hand-carrying the items into the U.S. Office of Trade Compliance
Incoming transfer (Import) of all other items At the time of purchase or prior to sender shipping goods Office of Trade Compliance and PantherExpress


International Academic Visitors

Academic Visitors are individuals supported by other academic institutions or companies (foreign or domestic) who receive an invitation from a University of Pittsburgh host school or department to be a guest on our campus for a specified amount of time and for a specific academic or research purpose.

The University of Pittsburgh fully supports the hosting of foreign visitors for academic or research collaborations. University faculty interested in hosting visitors to campus to participate in academic or research activities should review the University's Academic Visitor Guidance prior to extending an invitation. The Power of Pitt website describes how the University of Pittsburgh is addressing the Covid-19 pandemic, including vaccine-related requirements. The procedures on the site apply to all members of the University community including Academic Visitors.

The guidance includes a step-by-step process that contains automatic restricted party screenings and an export controls review for visitors and visitor sponsors. In addition, the process also requires long-term visitors and their sponsors to sign a Visitor Participation Agreement prior to arriving on-campus. This agreement provides the foreign visitor with the legal and ethical standards applicable to their visit, and clearly defines expectations and ownership of intellectual property and liability. 

The University's Academic Visitor Process is managed by The Office of Trade Compliance, who has assigned a "Visitor Liaison" to assist University schools, departments, and faculty with questions.

Foreign Gifts and Donations

The University of Pittsburgh through its Division of Philanthropic & Alumni Engagement (PAE), cultivates and manages relationships with contributors, alumni, and other constituents to generate support for teaching, research and public service.  All gifts and donations meant to benefit Pitt are subject to strict accounting rules and other federal reporting requirements such as section 117 of the Higher Education Act.  This Act requires academic institutions such as Pitt to report foreign gifts and contracts that meet certain dollar thresholds to the U.S. Department of Education on a bi-annual basis. 

Gifts and donations can be monetary or in-kind and must be reviewed, approved, and processed through PAE so that the University can properly account for the funds and manage the important relationships that are behind each gift or donation. Please contact PAE directly or through one of its division or school contacts with questions about gifts or donations.

International Travel Resources and Global Operations Support

University faculty who travel internationally are reminded of the risks involved when leaving the United States, and to prepare by reviewing the advice and services that Pitt offers through the following websites and offices:   

University Center for International Studies (UCIS) Global Operations Website:  This website serves as the "hub" for all of Pitt's global operations information.  It contains advice and resources relevant to all stages of international travel, and also includes links to pertinent U.S. government offices that provide information on travel warnings, passport guidance, and visa requirements. It also provides links to the University’s COVID-19 Standards and Guidelines on safe mobility which address University-related travel, personal travel, commuting, and general safe travel guidance. A global concierge is on staff and available to assist Pitt faculty and staff with questions. 

Office of International Services (OIS): This office handles all of the University's immigration needs and is available to our more than 6,000 international students, scholars, staff, and faculty who call Pitt their academic home. 

Pitt's Information Technology Website: This website provides a number of important technology guidelines and tips for international travel, including: laptop use and security, cellphone use and security, software, data safeguarding, password tips, and public network guidance.  

The Office of Trade Compliance: This office provides import and export advice and guidance on items and technologies that are shipped or hand-carried to/from a foreign location. They also provide advice on U.S. embargoed and sanctioned countries, restricted parties, licensing, and license exception processes.