Similar to this question What happens to equipment purchased using a startup package after an academic leaves the university? , I was wondering what happens if the items are not part of a startup package, but instead from grants received. Is there a universal rule or does this change between universities/countries?

I would like to know about all funding, but if it varies, let's say specifically an industry funded project.

I am not sure if this is relevant, but when receiving grants, I have been told if I were to leave the department, I would be able to transfer the grant to my new location (given the funder agrees). This was, however, with the grant money itself, and nothing stated about after its completion.

  • 1
    Note that at least for federal funding agencies in the US, the institution, not the PI, is the official recipient of the grant.
    – ff524
    Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 0:33
  • @ff524 Interesting point, I updated the question to keep it answerable Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 0:34
  • It can get quite complex if multiple institutions are involved in the grant. Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 1:25
  • For simplicity, lets assume one institute. I just made the reference to transferring funds since it seems like if that is possible, the grant is not solely belonging to the university, but not sure it is relevant after the fact Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 2:43

2 Answers 2


The fate of equipment purchased with research funds generally follows one of three trajectories:

  1. Small common equipment below a certain threshold of cost is typically categorized as something like "office/lab supplies" and is effectively treated as part of the overhead costs of doing research. Different organizations have different ways of categorizing and budgeting such equipment, but it generally includes things like laptops, pipettes, staplers, etc. These items will be owned by the research organization, but below some threshold they are ignored and treated as being owned by individual researchers (they care about your pipette, but nobody's going to track your pencils).

  2. Specialized and/or costly equipment typically belongs to the funder of the project, unless specified otherwise as part of the contract. For example, the US government almost always retains ownership of equipment purchased using research contract funds. After a research contract ends, one of two things happens with such equipment:

    A. The equipment remains in the hands of the organization, either rolled over into use by another contract or simply ignored and abandoned by the funder. In my experience, this is by far the most common outcome with research equipment, since it is generally useless to others and/or difficult to transfer, and the funder is often not interested in holding it in inventory.

    B. The funder requests that the equipment be shipped back to it. This is most likely to happen when the funder is concerned about alternate uses that the equipment might be put to (e.g., supporting an industrial competitor) or is planning to give it to another organization.

One of the common frustrations is that it's often difficult to tell whether you're dealing with 2A or 2B, especially when dealing with the government, which may take years to get around to requesting something back. In the meantime, the organization still needs to track and maintain custody as though expecting the funder to want the equipment back.

Now, in all cases, the PI does not own the equipment, but if it is worthwhile to transfer a piece of funder-owned equipment to a new organization, the funder may be quite willing to do so, just as they may be willing to transfer funds to follow the PI.

  • "One of the common frustrations is that it's often difficult to tell whether you're dealing with 2A or 2B" - it seems rather straightforward to add a clarifying statement in the initial funding confirmation, is that unusual in U.S. grants? Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 9:11
  • @O.R.Mapper It is frequently the case that the contract declares the intention to follow case 2B, but in practice follows 2A.
    – jakebeal
    Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 12:22
  • We buy $30+M computers with US NSF money, and UT explicitly gets title to the computers. NSF has figured out that having to get rid of equipment that it holds title to after a grant is over is a huge pain and appears to have shifted to giving title to the institution that gets the award.
    – Bill Barth
    Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 17:05
  • @BillBarth That's excellent news --- in my experience so far, the DoD hasn't caught up to that yet.
    – jakebeal
    Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 17:30
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    I think wrt to computers, the system that costs megabucks today is junk in a few years. But it remains on the books at the megabucks price and must be treated as if it were a megabucks asset. Maybe its best use is as a doorstop but if you can't return it to the funding agency, you might be on the hook for the megabucks.
    – emory
    Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 19:34

The answer will vary widely, but for most industry-funded projects in the U.S., the institution will be the official recipient, as ff524 says of government grants. This is because the grantor can (probably) take a tax deduction if the grant goes to the institution.

The real answer will be in the grant document itself.

  • So there does not seem to be any difference between this case and a startup package from the linked question? Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 0:40
  • @user1938107: Right. The equipment will (likely) belong to the university, and they'll (probably) treat it however they generally treat assets of that type.
    – Bob Brown
    Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 0:44

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