Frequently Asked Questions

What are exports?

Exports are any items (e.g., commodities, software, technology) sent or provided  to a foreign destination. Exports include the release or sharing of  technology or data (orally or in writing) with foreign nationals inside or outside the U.S. — these are called “deemed” exports.

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What are export controls?

Export controls are federal laws that regulate the export of:

  • sensitive technologies, 
  • equipment, 
  • software, 
  • biological agents, and 
  • related data and services. 

These laws require that licenses be obtained for exports, including “deemed” exports, of these sensitive items (e.g., defense articles, items with potential military applications, select agents) unless an exemption exists.

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How do these laws apply to research at MSU?

These laws apply to all research activities whether or not there is a specific citation to the regulations in the grant or contract governing the project, and whether or not the project is grant funded.

However, the National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 189, issued in 1985, states that fundamental research is not subject to the license requirements of export control regulations.

Fundamental research is defined by the National Security Decision Directive as follows:

"'Fundamental research' means basic and applied research in science and engineering, the results of which ordinarily are published and shared broadly within the scientific community, as distinguished from proprietary research and from industrial development, design, production, and product utilization, the results of which ordinarily are restricted for proprietary or national security reasons."

As a public university, Michigan State University is committed to the widest possible public dissemination of scientific learning and research results. Therefore, most information and data to be created or used at MSU will likely fall under the definition of fundamental research as set forth in NSDD 189.

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What actions could impact the fundamental research exemption?

University research will not be deemed to qualify as fundamental research if:

  • The university accepts any restrictions on the publication of the information resulting from the research.
  • Research is federally funded and specific access and dissemination controls regarding the resulting information have been accepted by the university or the researcher.
  • The research involves encryption technology.
  • The university has signed a non-disclosure agreement limiting access to project results.
  • The project involves delivery of a prototype.

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How does fundamental research relate to trade sanctions?

Trade sanctions may prohibit travel, payment or providing anything of value to the sanctioned individual, entity or country, regardless of the fundamental research exemption.

Current listings of the targets affected by these regulations are maintained by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Please contact Export Control & Trade Sanctions with any questions about how these sanctions apply to your activity.

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Why is it important to be aware of these laws?

Violations of trade sanctions and export controls can result in significant institutional, civil and criminal penalties. 

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What other considerations should MSU employees be aware of when transferring or transporting research materials, software, or data?

The following information is excerpted from a memo sent on October 20, 2006, to MSU deans, directors, and chairs:

  1. Not all research material may be shipped or hand-carried by air.
  2. A Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) must be used when MSU research materials, software, biological materials, or data sets are received from an outside party or transferred off-campus to another party.
  3. All transfers of research materials, software, or data must comply with export control and trade sanction regulations.
  4. Commercial shipment of hazardous materials must comply with U.S. Department of Transportation regulations.
  5. MSU provides compliance assistance through many administrative offices to facilitate your transfer and transport of research materials, software, and data.

For full text of this memo, please click here.(PDF)

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Whom at MSU should I contact with questions?

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