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Energy Biosciences Institute: Highlights of the Master Agreement

Definition of the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI)

The EBI is a collaboration between the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and BP to promote, coordinate and fund research in the newly created field of energy biosciences. Its overall goal is to develop technically feasible and economically viable solutions to global energy challenges, with an emphasis on advanced biofuels.

Funded by $50 million per year for 10 years from BP, the EBI will focus on the study of biofuels production and other applications of biology to the production, conversion, improvement and delivery of fuels and the reduction or elimination of greenhouse gases or other harmful byproducts of energy use. Specific areas of research will include growing and harvesting plant material that can be used as feedstocks in biofuels production, breaking down plant material for use in biofuels production, so-called biomass depolymerization; converting heavy hydrocarbons to cleaner fuels; removing or sequestering atmospheric carbon or preventing increases in carbon; and the social and economic issues related to these new technologies.

Structure of the research collaboration

The EBI is divided into two separate segments – the "proprietary component" and the "open component" – that will be physically and organizationally separate. In the open component, UC Berkeley, Berkeley Lab and UIUC researchers will conduct academic research that will be published in recognized journals. The proprietary component will be in rented space at UC Berkeley and at UIUC. It will be staffed solely by BP employees, its consultants and agents and will conduct confidential and proprietary research, the products of which will be owned by BP. To facilitate advancement of the EBI mission through strategic interaction, proprietary labs will be situated adjacent to open, academic labs.

Research conducted in UC Berkeley, UIUC and Berkeley Lab space, or by personnel of those institutions, will be subject to that institution's normal academic policies and practices. Proprietary labs will be physically separate with controlled access. University research will not take place in the proprietary component. BP employees in UC Berkeley, Berkeley Lab or UIUC space will be subject to "visitor agreements" governing corporate visitors at those institutions. Of the approximately $50 million annual EBI budget, approximately $35 million will fund open academic research and $15 million will fund proprietary research.

EBI's governance structure and leadership

The open component of the EBI will be guided by a director, who must be a member of the UC Berkeley faculty. The director will chair an executive committee that includes the deputy director from UIUC, the associate director from BP, six or seven EBI science program directors from either UC Berkeley, Berkeley Lab or UIUC, plus one representative appointed by BP. The director and executive committee will be responsible for steering and implementing the open research program within the EBI, making and managing an annual call for research proposals, proposing to the governance board a slate of research projects to be funded (or renewed) each year, submitting a yearly budget for the open component, and establishing goals and milestones. A two-thirds vote of the committee will be required for approval of annual project plans and budget.

The executive committee will report to an eight-member Governance Board comprised of four representatives appointed by UC Berkeley, including two from UC Berkeley and one each from Berkeley Lab and UIUC, and four representatives from BP. The Governance Board will be  responsible for overseeing the management of the open component of the EBI and will have no authority over the proprietary component. Its responsibilities will include approving the overall research plan and budget by means of a majority affirmative vote on the entire slate of research projects, and overseeing the EBI director and deputy director. Governance Board decisions will require a quorum of five members and a majority of five votes. UC Berkeley's chancellor and BP's executive vice president of group technology will attempt to resolve any deadlocks within the governance board, but if unsuccessful, the disputed action will be considered to be rejected.

The new director of the EBI is Christopher Somerville, who has been appointed to the UC Berkeley faculty as a professor of plant and microbial biology. Stephen P. Long of UIUC has been appointed deputy director. Paul Willems of BP has been appointed associate director.

The proprietary component of the EBI will be managed entirely at the discretion of BP.

Physical locations of the EBI

Eventually, EBI researchers will be housed in a headquarters building to be constructed on the boundary between UC Berkeley and Berkeley Lab. The new building is projected to open in 2010, but until then, EBI laboratories and offices will be in Hildebrand Hall and the Calvin Laboratory on the UC Berkeley campus. At UC Berkeley, BP will lease office space and laboratory space for its proprietary research on the top (third) floor of the Calvin Laboratory. At the University of Illinois, EBI researchers will occupy space on the first floor of the Institute of Genomic Biology. BP will pay UC Berkeley and UIUC market-rate rent for the proprietary space.

Highlights of sponsored research agreement

Ownership of intellectual property

Ownership of intellectual property (IP) is expected to generally follow U.S. patent law: inventions made solely by BP employees in the proprietary space will be owned by BP, while inventions made solely by UC Berkeley, Berkeley Lab or UIUC employees in their open space will be theirs. Inventions made by at least one inventor from BP and at least one inventor from UC Berkeley, UIUC and/or Berkeley Lab will be jointly owned.


BP as the funding entity will be granted a non-exclusive, royalty-free right to practice discoveries made in the EBI in BP’s principal business, the energy field. BP will also be able to sublicense its licensed rights to others, including BP affiliates and its qualified joint venture partners.

When BP receives a nonexclusive license in the energy field, the research collaborators can grant additional nonexclusive licenses in the field, and can even grant an exclusive license to the same rights, outside of the energy field. Licenses to BP will explicitly retain for the research collaborators their normal "reserved" rights to continue to use licensed IP rights for their own purposes, and to allow others in the nonprofit sector to practice the IP rights. BP will be required to diligently develop and commercialize licensed IP rights.

As is standard practice in UC and most corporate-sponsored university research agreements, BP will have the first right to negotiate an exclusive, royalty-bearing license in the energy field (or an option to obtain such a license in the future) to IP rights owned by UC, UIUC or Berkeley Lab that arise from BP-funded EBI research. BP will be able to sublicense its rights to other companies in the energy field, and will be able to employ the technology in operations of BP affiliates and its qualified joint venture partners. 

The royalty for each exclusive license will be agreed between the parties at the time of licensing, but will not exceed $100,000 per year. In exceptional cases where the licensed invention represents truly breakthrough technology such that the licensed invention has grossly higher commercial value than originally contemplated, the parties will evaluate in good faith an adjustment to the royalty fee.

IP that BP does not license exclusively (through an exclusive license or an exclusive option) within time-limited periods may be offered to other companies, but BP will always retain the nonexclusive right to use IP developed with EBI funding.

Hiring of new faculty at UC Berkeley and UIUC

UC Berkeley's administration proposed and the campus's Academic Senate approved seven new faculty members or their full-time equivalents for the EBI. The first of these, Stanford University plant biology professor Christopher Somerville, has gone through the faculty review process and has been appointed a professor in UC Berkeley's Department of Plant and Microbial Biology. As specific research needs are identified, the EBI will work with relevant departments to recruit and hire faculty conducting research in those areas. Similarly, UIUC is expected to hire three new faculty members. Appointments will follow the usual review procedure.