Contractual relationships established directly with the US government or under subcontracts and purchase orders under government contracts with other companies must contain provisions for the protection of intellectual property and proprietary data. This article will address the major processes by which that protection is achieved.
RIGHTS IN TECHNICAL DATA AND SOFTWARE
The Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation (DFAR) contains the most widely used provisions by a federal agency that allow a contractor, subcontractor or supplier under government contracts to assert ownership or protective rights for specific technical data and software. Keep in mind that the more a company has invested in a technology, a product or a system the higher the level of protection available under the DFAR. If the government has or will invest in the technical data and software then the level of protection that can be asserted diminishes and the government begins to assume ownership and attendant control of the related intellectual property.
It is important during the solicitation and proposal stage to assert rights in technical data and software so the business relationship is clearly understood by all parties and appropriate protective markings, licensing and related measures can be covered in the contractual documentation. The following information in the DFAR should be studied to ascertain how to appropriately assert rights during proposals to the government and to prime contactors:
The government does not sign agreements to protect specific data, abiding instead by the DFAR-specified assertions regarding ownership and use of technical data and computer software as they are negotiated in contracts. The government will comply with specific marking and identification of proprietary data. Details on these markings are provided at the conclusion of this article.
NON-DISCLOSURE AGREEMENTS BETWEEN COMPANIES
When two companies begin an exchange of information that may lead to a mutually exclusive business arrangement under a government contract, a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) is generally signed to protect proprietary data.
The first page of such an agreement is on the left in the illustration above. The entire document may be obtained free of charge by downloading it at the "Box Net" cubicle in the right margin of this site.
TEAMING AGREEMENTS BETWEEN COMPANIES
When two companies agree to form a mutually exclusive agreement to prepare a proposal as a team to a government agency a teaming agreement is generally executed. The first page of such an agreement is on the right in the illustration above. The entire document may be obtained free of charge by downloading it at the "Box Net" cubicle in the right margin of this site.
A teaming agreement remains in force until it is replaced by a subcontract from the lead company to the following company upon award of the prime contract. In the case of a joint venture, the prime contract award results in two contracts from the joint venture contract level to the respective participating company levels.
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PROTECTING RATE INFORMATION BETWEEN COMPANIES
It is generally recognized by all industries participating in federal government contracting that internal overhead and G&A rates and the data that support them are proprietary data. The reason for the proprietary nature of rate data between companies is that in government work firms are teaming with each other exclusively on one project and competing against each other on additional contracts or projects at the same time.
Assuming everyone pays a generally similar labor rate on the market to retain employees and that fringe costs about the same for everyone, then overhead and G&A are what wins and loses jobs and specific, company internal overhead rates are very closely held.
Companies do not disclose the details of their rates to other companies and they do not expect to see another company's proprietary rate information. So companies view each other’s rate information on a fully loaded basis, meaning the total of the base cost, any proprietary indirect cost and an agreed upon profit percent.
If a prime contractor requests that subcontractor proprietary rate information be supplied with a proposal the detail should be double wrapped and the package stamped, 'Government Eyes Only'. The prime will then hand the package off to DCAA without opening it and receive only the fully loaded result of the burdened rate pricing.
DCAA or federal agency pricing analysts perform detail audits of subcontractor rate information but prime contractors are not provided the result. An audit statement by the government that the subcontractor detail rate support is acceptable or not acceptable is all that is provided to the prime contractor.
Government auditors do not make value judgments or negotiate; they review the logic and support for rates, check the math and provide a report to the government contracting officer who will conduct the negotiations, if any.
PROTECTIVE MARKINGS FOR PROPRIETARY DATA SUBMITTED TO THE GOVERNMENT AND TO A PRIME CONTRACTOR
Your proposal data may contain rate information, proprietary data or strategic technical solutions that you would not want to fall into the hands of a competitor. The government does not sign Proprietary Data Agreements (PDA's). Examples of the government's obligation to protect your information are covered under the DFAR rights in technical data and software assertions discussed above and in the following FAR clause that requires protective markings by you on the title page of your document and on each subsequent page.FAR 15.509 Limited use of data:
(a) A proposal may include data that the offeror does not want disclosed for any purpose other than evaluation. If the offeror wishes to restrict the proposal, the title page must be marked with the following legend:
"The data in this proposal shall not be disclosed outside the Government and shall not be duplicated, used, or disclosed in whole or in part for any purpose other than to evaluate the proposal; provided, that if a contract is awarded to this offeror as a result of or in connection with the submission of these data, the Government shall have the right to duplicate, use, or disclose the data to the extent provided in the contract. This restriction does not limit the Government's right to use information contained in the data if it is obtainable from another source without restriction."
(b) The offeror shall also mark each restricted sheet with the following legend:
"Use or disclosure of proposal data is subject to the restriction on the title page of this Proposal."
(c) The coordinating office shall return to the offeror any unsolicited proposal marked with a legend different from that provided in 15.509(a). The return letter will state that the proposal cannot be considered because it is impracticable for the Government to comply with the legend and that the agency will consider the proposal if it is resubmitted with the proper legend.