Sharing or exchanging research material is typically formalised through material transfer agreements. The aim of this article is to put into critical perspective the empirical findings on modes and impacts of these agreements vis-a-vis commonly accepted concerns formulated in a Mertonian fashion for the case of academic science, and from the perspective of the anticommons theory for the case of academic commercialisation. Empirically, scholars have used statistical evidence in surveys of perceptions and dedicated measures through bibliometrics to study these agreements. These statistical studies have thus helped make progress in the understanding of the mode and impact, but such implications need to integrate diverse results from anecdotal evidence that is currently considered separately. © 2009 Taylor & Francis.