22.2 Examples of Conflicts of Interest

It is essential that all University employees recognize, disclose, and avoid all conflicts of interest and commitment.  Although the variations are endless, here are examples of how conflicts of interest may arise:

 

22.2.1 Major Gifts from Commercial Sponsors

Significant gifts  to the University from a commercial sponsor of research may raise questions about the influence of the company on the University’s research programs and how they are managed. Other similar concerns arise when individual companies sponsor research or provide significant consulting income to a significant number of faculty members.

22.2.1.1      Gifts, or promise of gifts, in exchange for favorable terms on a technology license, or first look at IP create a conflict of interest.

22.2.1.2      Alumni venture funds that provide for a portion of revenue to be “contributed” to the University must be carefully scrutinized for creating conflict of interest conditions – whether real or perceived.

 

22.2.2 Procurement of Goods and Services from Entities in which the University has a Financial Interest

Purchasing goods and services from entities that sponsor research at the University, or who are licensees of University technology, or who make significant contributions to University activities and endeavors, can sometimes give rise to a conflict of interest situation; these should be carefully scrutinized and evaluated; if it is determined to proceed, a written justification should be obtained.

 

22.2.3 Acceptance of Gifts & Favors from Others

Those doing business with the University, or wishing to do business with the University, may offer gifts  (any item of personal benefit to the recipient) to University employees.  These may range from the offer of a box of candy to paying for the employee’s dinner to an all-expenses-paid trip to a resort (to give a “talk”).  Exorbitant honoraria, extremely generous speaker’s fees, luxury travel and accommodations, gifts of expensive equipment, or other lavish treatment may be offered by research sponsors and by vendors, and the items offered are often characterized as “in support of” the employee’s University activities.   All such favors create impermissible conflicts of interest. 

However, we may accept “promotional goods or commemoratives to be widely distributed” such as pocket tissues, calendar, memo-booklet, ballpoint pen free sample of research materials which are deemed reasonable under normal social conventions.

22.2.3.1  You may accept gifts & favors of not more than 5,000 yen from universities or institutions which you do not have any conflict of interests with, without filing a report; however, if you accept gifts & favors from universities or institutions that exceed 5,000 yen, you must submit a Report of Gifts & Favors to CCO.

 

22.2.4 Financial Interests Related to Licensing of University Technology

The University has an active program to license its inventions to commercial entities (Chapter 14). Under these licenses the University typically acquires a Financial Interest in successfully developed products and, sometimes, in the developing entity itself. These Financial Interests can be of concern when they may appear to influence decisions about the conduct of research, teaching or other activities. For example, even where individual investigators do not have a personal stake, knowledge that the University stands to gain financially from successful development of a licensed technology can influence the direction of related research, the objectivity of research, the dissemination of results and the allocation of University resources among competing projects. The potential for conflict increases where the licensee sponsors research at the University. In such situations, the University’s Financial Interests under the license may appear to affect decisions concerning the terms or conduct of the sponsored research.

22.2.4.1 Equity Interests in Start-up Companies. In licenses to start-up companies the University may accept equity in lieu of licensing fees or in exchange for reduced royalties. From a financial viewpoint, the potential gain from holding equity may far exceed the potential return from a royalty-only license. The potential for significant gain, and the possibility that it may be realized long before any product comes to market, increases the possibility that such an equity interest may influence or may appear to influence University decisions about research that could affect the value of the University’s equity position. Such arrangements must be fully disclosed and must be carefully scrutinized to ensure that research decisions are not influenced by the University’s potential for realizing financial gain.

22.2.4.2  University employees hired specifically to encourage faculty start-ups (for example, to seek broker financial relationships with fledgling enterprises) create special exposure for universities and the perception of Institutional Conflicts of Interest.  It is critical that these activities be reported and assiduously monitored to prevent conflicts of interest.

 

22.2.5 Master Agreements with a Commercial Sponsor

Based on known research strengths, private sector entities may offer long-term funding support for research conducted within specific disciplines. This type of support, often governed by a master agreement, may attempt to give special preferences to the sponsoring entity. Such agreements must be carefully reviewed by those not involved in the carrying out of the agreement in order to prevent any inappropriate preference or other conflict of interest.

 

22.2.6 Advisory Committees and Collaborative Arrangements with Commercial Entities

Participation in collaborative agreements, advisory committees, research review panels and similar associations often provides special access to research results. These arrangements, and the contracts or agreements that support them, must be scrutinized to ensure that they do not include provisions that will give rise to, or create the appearance of, conflicts. 

 

22.2.7 Research Involving the Use of Human Subjects

The University has special responsibilities to participants in human subjects research and must ensure that its financial relationships do not compromise its primary obligations to them. For this reason, the research must be subjected to close scrutiny to prevent even the appearance of a conflict of interest. Please refer to Chapter 13 for other matters concerning research involving the use of human subjects. 

 

22.2.8 Access to Closely-Held Information

Councilors and Governors, and other University employees, in the course of meeting their obligations and duties to the University, may get early knowledge of new technologies and other significant developments. Some of these same members may hold a management role or board seat on companies’ Board of Directors that are looking to contribute to major developments, to license technology, or to sponsor research at the University.  Use of such information for private inurement gives rise to ethical questions and a conflict of interest.  Use for personal purposes of information received as an employee of the University is forbidden.

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