Commercialization and Conflict of Interest

Commercialization and Conflict of Interest

Faculty and staff are strongly encouraged to commercialize intellectual property developed at UNT. In most cases, commercialization does not take place in a vacuum; the technology continues to play a role in the researcher’s academic and research agendas. This creates the need to ensure we manage perceived conflicts of interest on licensed technology. A perceived conflict of interest exists when any external competing interest could influence the performance of a faculty member’s research duties.  The financial gain does not have to be realized to create the perception of conflict of interest. Rather, the potential for manipulating research results is enough to trigger this requirement to file and publish all perceived conflicts of interest.

Faculty earn license royalty income if a licensed technology succeeds commercially and both research results and academic journal articles may impact the commercial success of a technology. This is part of the nature of commercializing university research; the conflict or perceived conflict is not negative against the faculty, university, or the commercial company. However, that perceived conflict must be managed to ensure that UNT, the faculty, academic journals/publishers, and the commercializing company are not hindered from the lack of reporting up-front. Reporting allows all interested parties to be sure they have all facts related to a commercial activity. This transparency protects UNT, the researcher, and the licensee from conflict problems that might arise years after the research is completed.

What to do once a technology has been licensed:

Faculty have an obligation to ensure that publications, sponsored research, and other work related to licensed technology are accounted for after a technology has been licensed.

Publications: All future publications on the licensed technology, including improvements to the technology or work that was started prior to the licensing, must be noted with COI reporting to UNT as well as reporting to publishers that a potential interest exists. This includes informing a publisher if the article was submitted prior to license execution, but the license execution occurs prior to acceptance or publication.

Sponsored Research: If the licensed work is being utilized in current sponsored research, it is critical to alert both Research Commercial Agreements (RCA) to the current, active sponsored research program and to alert that sponsor of the license. Often, sponsored research will provide rights to the sponsor for use of background intellectual property being used by our faculty in performing the sponsored work and, in some cases, they might have a legal right to license such intellectual property for commercial use. The faculty must contact RCA so that the sponsor can be alerted as required under the terms of such sponsored research agreement.

UNT Financial Conflict of Interest: A license is not a financial COI for the faculty if that licensed technology is no longer used in sponsored research projects or the subject of future research/academic publications. However, if a researcher is sponsored by a licensee to intellectual property (“IP”) disclosed by that researcher to UNT and licensed by UNT to that sponsor, the faculty must report a COI. Simply, this transparency to all interested parties, both at the time of disclosure, and many years down the line when such licensed IP might be a massive commercial enterprise, shows that the researcher and UNT took all reasonable steps and followed a documented plan to manage conflicts assuring the research integrity of the work. Again, the COI is not a detriment to the faculty member’s reputation or their research’s value; the documentation of the COI ensures that all research results published after a license ensures that the faculty member’s possible financial interest has been managed. UNT wants to ensure that our faculty do not face a problem resulting from a lack of disclosure, and we believe that disclosing just a potential for perceived COI will allow conflicts to be managed so that there is no detriment to UNT, our faculty, or their research results.

UNT’s Research Integrity and Compliance (RIC) office oversees the disclosure process. At the beginning of every fiscal year (September 1), RIC opens the annual disclosure process for researchers to complete their annual COI disclosures. Any modifications or changes to an annual disclosure must be made within 30 days. Conflicts are not inherently negative but must be managed via a Conflict of Interest Management Plan (CMP). Disclosures allow us to address most COI concerns. Additionally, outside of the annual disclosure, if a perceived conflict is created around licensed technology, the faculty is required to provide an immediate update to the COI so that the perceived conflict is managed and publishers, licensees, and sponsors are notified immediately.