Several U.S. companies have awarded stock options to top executives while engaged in merger negotiations, the Wall Street Journal said, citing an academic research paper and its own review of company filings.

The practice of awarding options, though legal, has resulted in the target company's executives reaping a bigger payout when the deal is closed, the paper said.

The paper said its survey of company filings found stock options had been awarded to executives in a half dozen large mergers since 2007, including Adobe Systems Inc's deal to buy web analytics firm Omniture Inc and Walt Disney Co's purchase of Marvel Entertainment Inc .

Marvel and Omniture could not be immediately reached for comment by Reuters outside regular U.S. business hours.

(Reporting by Sakthi Prasad in Bangalore; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)