Conflicts of Interest

Contact

Dan Runge
Senior Compliance Officer, Office of Research Integrity & Safety
706-542-4188
drunge@uga.edu
208 Tucker Hall
310 E. Campus Rd.
Athens, GA 30602

 

Ian Biggs
Director, Startups, Innovation Gateway
706-542-4308
ibiggs@uga.edu
266 Center for Applied Genetic Technologies

Overview

The University of Georgia supports and encourages entrepreneurship and startup activity. To protect the interests of our students, employees, the University, and any company working with UGA researchers, the University requires the transparent disclosure of financial, personal and corporate relationships, as well as management of actual or apparent conflicts of interest.

The University uses the policies and processes identified below to develop appropriate management plans. When engaging in startup activities, UGA employees must continue to fulfill all of their university obligations and may not utilize UGA resources for company work without both written approval and reimbursing the University.

If you are involved with a startup company, other requirements may be incorporated into a management plan as required by your college, school or unit when approving the startup outside activity, or by the Office of Research Integrity & Safety when you engage in a sponsored project related to your startup company.

In summary, there are four requirements to avoid conflict issues:

  • Disclose clearly and fully all facts around your proposed activity
  • Agree to a management plan and follow it
  • Don’t use University services or assets for non-University business without prior permission and payment
  • If you have any uncertainty or doubt, discuss questions or concerns with your College Approver or, for sponsored projects, the Office of Research Integrity & Safety

Required Disclosures

While management of conflicts can appear a daunting task, there are essentially three “trigger points” when you should ensure you are accurately disclosing your startup activities:

  • Before forming a company
  • When proposing sponsored research at the University
  • Annually (or when circumstances change) by disclosing and receiving approval for startup activities and documenting conflicts of interest for the year

Each of these key moments is described below.

Step-by-Step

  1. Before forming a company:
    1. Familiarize yourself with the Conflicts of Interest, Conflicts of Commitment, and Outside Activities Policy, administered by your college, school or unit.
      1. Disclose your startup company financial interests and activity to your college, school or unit via the Conflicts of Interest Disclosure Form.
        1. Complete at the time of initial hire, at the time the need for disclosure arises, and annually during your performance evaluation.
      2. If you work 30 or more hours per week (.75 or more FTE), obtain written approval prior to engaging in startup company activities.
        1. For staff who do not have supervisory responsibilities, among other factors, written approval is obtained via the Staff Notification Form for Pre-Approved Compensated Activities.
        2. For faculty or other staff not eligible for Pre-Approval , written approval is obtained via the Compensated Outside Activities Approval Form.
      3. Your startup company activity cannot interfere with the regular and punctual discharge of your official duties.
  2. When proposing sponsored research projects:
    1. Disclose your startup company financial interests and activities according to the Policy on Conflicts of Interest in Sponsored Programs.
      1. Complete the required disclosure via the “Manage SFI Disclosure” link in the Grants Portal.
      2. Startup company financial interests and activities that relate to a sponsored project will require a Sponsored Project Conflict of Interest Management Plan.
      3. Be mindful of limitations on the startup’s business interactions with the University
        1. Your startup company is prohibited from transacting business with the University in most circumstances, pursuant to state law O.C.G.A. §45-10-20 through §45-10-70.
          1. Employee startup companies cannot be recipients of subcontracts from the University, nor can employee startup companies consult for the University.
        2. However, your startup company may sponsored research to the University, such as via the Small Business Innovation Research or Small Business Technology Transfer Programs
  3. Annual review of startup activities, or when startup circumstances change:
    1. Annually, or when circumstances change, disclose conflicts of interest related to your startup activity to your college, school or unit.
    2. Annually, or when circumstances change, request approval of outside startup activity from your college, school or unit.
    3. If you propose sponsored research via the University, disclose startup company financial interests and activity at least annually and within 30 days of incurring new startup company activities or interests

Training Requirements

Research Integrity & Safety Support Services implements training per Public Health Service requirements for grants and cooperative agreements that the University receives. This training currently applies only to “PHS Investigators,” is available through the University’s Professional Education Portal, and requires completion before an expense may be recorded on an award from a PHS entity. Once completed, the training is good for four years.

FAQ

A conflict of interest is any circumstance where the personal interest(s) of you, your spouse or dependent children may prevent or appear to prevent you from making an unbiased decision with respect to your University obligations. An apparent conflict exists when a reasonable person would conclude from the circumstances that your ability to protect the public interest, or perform public duties, is compromised by a personal, financial or business interest.

In sponsored projects, a conflict of interest is any circumstance in which it reasonably appears that your (or your spouse’s or dependent children’s) financial or other external interest could bias or appear to bias the design, conduct or reporting of activities funded or proposed for funding by a sponsor.

The University must maintain the public’s trust that the knowledge discovered and disseminated by the University is free from bias or external influence and that University employees, that engage in outside activities or whom may have external conflicts of interest, appropriately handle those circumstances. University conflicts of interest policies help to protect both the University and its employees from the appearance of bias or other forms of undue influence.

Conflicts of interest are not inherently bad, but they must be disclosed and managed; when no management can overcome potential bias or undue influence, the activity creating conflict must cease. Startup companies are indicative of successful research and commercialization efforts, both of which the University encourages and works to manage any potential conflict appropriately.

  • Equity interest in or payments (e.g., consulting fees, gifts or other remuneration) from a company/entity whose products or services are being studied
  • Equity interests in or payments from the sponsor of the research or a subcontractor
  • Intellectual property rights in the subject matter being studied (e.g., patents, trademarks, copyrights), when those royalties are not coming from the University of Georgia Research Foundation

Before engaging in any outside compensated work, submit a Conflict of Interest Disclosure Form and an Outside Activities Approval Form to the appropriate Approver in your college, school, or unit.

You should discuss student involvement and other employee involvement in Company activities with your Approver in your college, school or unit. The college, school or unit may wish to manage student and other employee involvement in the Company within a management plan.

Disclose startup activity as a Significant Financial Interest when proposing any sponsored research, no matter the sponsor.

Startup activity and University activity must be separate. University facilities and resources include computers, staff effort, University email and phone systems, office and lab space, supplies and equipment, and University funds.

Startup companies may lease space from the University via the UGA Startup Program and may subcontract sponsored research to the University, frequently in conjunction with a Sponsored Project Conflict of Interest Management Plan. The Company may also utilize resources that are otherwise free and open to the public, as well as core facilities at the approved fee-for-service rates. Company utilization of University resources must be discussed and approved by the employee’s college, school or unit Approver, and in sponsored projects, by the Office of Research Integrity & Safety.

Familiarity with the Intellectual Property Policy of the University of Georgia is an important part of understanding the IP relationship between the University and the startup. Innovation Gateway manages technology transfer and provides a Quick Guide to IP and Commercialization.

Employees should discuss the involvement of colleagues or subordinates in the startup with their college, school or unit Approver. Examples include:

  1. A University employee works for a faculty member’s startup and also reports to that specific faculty member at the University
  2. A University employee’s performance at a company has an impact on the employee’s promotion and salary potential at the University
  3. An employee conducts company work on the University’s time or with University resources
  4. A mentor’s company employs his/her graduate students or directs students into a project that appears to benefit the mentor’s company

When students are involved in a startup, issues surrounding academic freedom, the student’s academic priorities and the academic mentor-mentee relationship become more complicated. Employees should discuss student involvement in Company work with their Approver in their college, school or unit.