Conflict of Interest Issues, Examples and Solutions
Faculty and staff on active duty are fully committed to teaching, research programs and administrative duties. It is up to the individual to manage his or her time to meet all obligations with regard to teaching, research and other University service. Those who are involved with technology transfer activities or outside companies should be cognizant of the individual's first priority to teaching, research and other University service.
Faculty should manage their outside activities such that they do not reduce scholarly openness with colleagues or impact the quality and direction of research activities or the supervision of students.
The University encourages faculty and academic staff to undertake outside activities, including compensated outside employment, which will be of public service or will increase their effectiveness through enhanced professional reputations and broadened experience relevant to their University function Outside Employment and Activities Policy.
Participation with a new startup company which involves technology transferred from FSU, and a promise of, or actual receipt of, compensation from such involvement creates the perception of a Conflict of Interest (CoI) or an actual Conflict. Similarly such involvement can raise questions of a Conflict of Commitment. The University Policy for outside Employment and Activities, the Board of Regents/United Florida Faculty Agreement and the Florida Statutes are all stringent in identifying such situations and preventing conflicts. In some cases where the perception of a Conflict of Interest exists, the above agreements allow a process of Disclosure of the situation and the creation of a Monitoring plan to prevent a potential conflict from turning into an actual conflict. Specifically, FSU has a form to Request an Exemption from Conflict of Interest Laws and a form to create a Monitoring Plan. Together with the FSU Faculty Outside Employment Statement Form , these documents disclose the situation in a manner which is detailed enough that permission can be sought and provided.
Simple Examples and Solutions for Conflict of Interest Situations:
- Hire FORMER students, postdocs, and employees as company employees.
- License IP from FSU in exchange for cash, royalty and/or equity.
- Use FSU equipment, space or facilities for a fee, if the same is also available to others.
- Serve as chair or member of scientific advisory board of company.
- Assign IP created wholly by company employees other than FSU employees to company.
- Involve students taking a leave of absence from FSU.
- Use FSU equipment for a fee if not readily already available to others.
- Involve your current students in your company
- Have future IP not funded by company be automatically licensed or controlled by the company.
- Subcontract to the company from FSU.
- Negotiate with FSU on behalf of a company.
General Principles Conflict of Commitment:
Faculty members’ first priority is to FSU as the employer.
Questions about commitment of time need to be discussed/resolved with faculty members’ supervisor (Chair, Dean).
- A faculty member may consult with the company up to an amount of time agreed with the supervisor and consistent with FSU policy as documented on the “Outside Activities Form”.
- A faculty member may consult with company during a FSU approved Leave of Absence.
- A full time faculty member may serve as the company Interim CEO or other Officer position at formation and during the Term of an Option to a License to FSU intellectual Property
- A full time faculty member serving as the company Interim CEO or other Operations position during the Term of a License to FSU intellectual Property, unless they take a FSU approved Leave of Absence.
- A full time faculty member serving as the company Interim CEO or other Operations position when the company has acquired a significant financial commitment and obligation, e.g. $300,000 - $500,000.
The researcher should assume the responsibility to complete the forms and disclose the situation. The TTO staff will work with the researcher to ensure completeness of the information. In addition, the TTO staff will actively assist with the approval process at all steps.
The researcher should inform his or her Chair and Dean at an early stage as these individuals will be asked to review and approve all three documents. The Waiver Request and Monitoring Plan will also be reviewed by and approved by the Vice President Research, the FSU President and an representative of the SUS Chancellor's Office.
The FSU process requires the designation of a "University Representative" who shall have the responsibility, together with TTO staff, for annually assessing the effectiveness of the Monitoring Plan and informing the University. The University Representative is normally someone designated by the appropriate Dean.
Together, these documents inform the Department Chair, and others in the University, in writing, of the request for licensing or contracting with the start-up company in which she or he has an interest, why the request is appropriate. How conflicts are to be avoided or managed and how University commitments are to be met are important elements of the written statement. If involvement of the individual is extensive, the Chair may request more detailed information regarding general duties in the company, clarification of research responsibilities and directions in the company and at the University, equity and other financial arrangements with the company that may impact the licensing decision.
If the Chair is satisfied that the individual's involvement with the start-up will not create conflict of interest that will adversely impact the individual's obligations to the University and that the technology transfer process is best achieved by the proposed licensing arrangements, the Chair will recommend approval to the Faculty Dean by signing the forms and forwarding them.
The involved researcher has ongoing obligations to keep the University Representative informed of any substantial changes in the outside involvement. The individual must avoid conflict of interest situations and should obtain approval prior to accepting gifts from the company to support the research. The researcher should disclose the interests in the company for any situation where the company is proposed as a sponsor, vendor or subcontractor in an sponsored project activities. It is also important to avoid the appearance that the University research lab is being used for product development or other business purposes in more than an incidental way. Written approval should be sought to involve other faculty members, staff or students with activities of the company.
The Office of Commercialization staff will assist at each step of the process.