Carnegie Mellon University


Quick Overview - Export Basics

Although federal laws restricting exports of goods and technology have been in existence since the 1940s, attention to export controls has increased due to post 9/11 heightened concerns about homeland security, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and leaks of technology to U.S. economic competitors. United States export controls exist to protect the national security and foreign policy interests of this country. Export controls govern the shipment, transmission, or transfer of certain sensitive items, information or software to foreign persons or entities. Where applicable, they may require authorization from the US Government in the form of an export license. Most of the items, information or software that CMU ships or shares with its colleagues and research partners is not of a nature that would be restricted for these purposes, nor are they destined for countries or individuals subject to US embargoes or sanctions.

Export controls present unique challenges to universities because they require balancing concerns about national security and U.S. economic vitality with traditional concepts of unrestricted academic freedom and publication and dissemination of research findings and results. As Carnegie Mellon University’s tradition of academic freedom and openness in research may bring it into conflict with these regulations, it is important that all faculty and staff involved in research on our campus understand the regulations and implementation requirements. Such knowledge is critical, both to avoiding situations that trigger these regulations and complying with those that are unavoidable. The federal government imposes severe criminal and civil fines for noncompliance.

Export laws and regulations promulgated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Treasury Department are the bases for restricting use of and access to controlled information, goods, and technology for reasons of national security or protection of trade. In general, the export control regulations cover four main types of University activities: transfers of controlled information, including technical data, to persons and entities outside the United States; shipment of controlled physical items, such as scientific equipment, that require export licenses from the United States to a foreign country verbal, written, electronic, or visual disclosures of controlled scientific and technical information related to export controlled items to foreign nationals  in the United States and abroad, (everyone other than a U.S. citizen, a permanent resident alien, and certain ‘protected individuals' (refugees and those with asylum), including any company not incorporated in the United States. Such a transfer is termed a "deemed export" and is regulated because the transfer is "deemed" to be to the country where the person is a resident or a citizen; travel to certain sanctioned or embargoed countries for purposes of teaching or performing research.

Fortunately for universities, these regulations provide that publicly available, fundamental research results are excluded from the regulatory requirements for approvals or licenses. Both the EAR and ITAR define fundamental research in a similar manner; it is "basic and applied research in science and engineering where the resulting information is ordinarily published and shared broadly within the scientific community, as distinguished from research the results of which are restricted for proprietary reasons or specific U.S. Government access and dissemination controls."

The right to publish and disseminate the results of university research is a keystone principle of Carnegie Mellon University. Fortunately, both EAR and ITAR recognize and protect the open, academic environment. Accordingly, no restrictions on foreign nationals' access to or participation in the design, fabrication, or scientific results generated in university-conducted fundamental research is required, as long as there is open access to the technical data or technology, and the results are shared broadly within the scientific community or made publicly available.

Tangible items, however, do not fall under the fundamental research exemption. In cases where a CMU researcher is shipping or taking an item outside the U.S., that item must be checked against the EAR, ITAR and OFAC lists referenced above to see whether a license is required. For help with this process and with obtaining an export license if necessary, contact the Export Compliance Group at

Related Export Controls Information