COI FAQ

Conflict of Interest Basics

What is a Conflict of Interest (COI)?

A Conflict of Interest is any situation in which it reasonably appears that an employee’s financial interest could bias or appear to bias the design, conduct, or reporting of activities funded or proposed for funding by a sponsor. Also considered a conflict is any situation where the personal interest of an employee or his/her family may prevent or appear to prevent the employee from making an unbiased decision with respect to the employee’s institutional duties.

Why does Georgia Tech care about COI?

Georgia Tech cares about conflicts of interest to preserve the public’s trust in the knowledge discovered and disseminated by the Institute. In addition, Georgia Tech’s COI policy overtly protects both the Institute and the faculty member from the appearance of bias or other forms of undue influence.

Are all Conflicts of Interest unfavorable?

No, conflicts are to be managed as opposed to feared. They are indicative of the natural outgrowth of successful research and commercialization efforts, and many faculty members manage these conflicts within the Institute’s policy.

What are some examples of situations that may create a COI?

In direct relation to research, these types of financial interests could create a COI if they could bias or appear to bias the design, conduct, or reporting of research:

  • 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)

What is an Institutional Conflict of Interest?

Institutional conflicts of interest occur when the Institute or one of its affiliated entities (including but not limited to Georgia Tech Research Corporation, Georgia Tech Applied Research Corporation, Georgia Tech Foundation, or Georgia Advanced Technology Ventures) has a financial stake in a particular outcome of its research programs or licensed technology. A conflict might arise out of an equity interest in a startup that licenses technology from the Institute or in the nature of royalties to be earned.

What is a Conflict of Commitment?

A Conflict of Commitment can occur if an employee’s outside professional activities hinder the employee from fulfilling institutional duties. To ensure that this is avoided, the Georgia Tech Faculty handbook section 5.6, states the following:

Conflict of Commitment: The purpose of the policy on consulting and related activities is to state with both clarity and generality the limits on the time that an Institute Faculty member may spend in consulting. The limits set forth below are intended to strike a balance between consulting and regular duties within the Institute and serve to safeguard the interest of both parties. In cases of ambiguity, the primary guide should be the intention to promote the interests of the Institute as a place of education, learning, and research. It is the Faculty’s obligation to obtain prior consent from the appropriate Institute officer.

What is a Significant Financial Interest?

A Significant Financial Interest consists of one or more of the following interests of the Investigator (and those of the Investigator’s spouse and dependent children). The threshold for “Significance” is currently $5,000 (fees, equity or a combination of both).

  • Anything of monetary value, including but not limited to, salary or other payments for services (e.g., consulting fees or honoraria)

All Equity interests (e.g., stocks, stock options, or other ownership interests) should be disclosed. Any equity interest in non-publicly traded entities is “significant.”

Disclosing COI at Georgia Tech

Where is the COI disclosure process completed?

Disclosures are completed via the eCOI system.

As an Investigator, what is necessary to disclose to the institute?

All financial interests related to an investigator’s “Institutional Responsibilities” including all consulting relationships as well as other relevant external activities should be disclosed. The Institution is responsible for determining whether a management plan is necessary. Further, the Institution will determine if any Significant Financial Interest relates to PHS-funded research and if it presents a Financial Conflict of Interest.

COI Review, Management Plans and Monitoring

What happens when the COI Office is notified of a potential conflict?

The COI Office reviews the investigator’s financial interests to determine whether a conflict exists under the Georgia Tech Policy or under state or federal regulations. If a potential conflict is not identified, then a “No Conflict” notification is sent to the investigator. If a potential conflict is identified, a case is prepared and presented before the COI Review Committee.

What is the Conflict of Interest Review Committee?

The COI Review Committee is composed of various faculty members, representing different schools across campus, representatives from ICAC, IRB, Legal Affairs and Ethics, and compliance officers from Georgia Tech Research Institute. The COI Review Committee is tasked with the responsibility of reviewing a Georgia Tech employee’s financial relationships and other non-Georgia Tech activities that have been disclosed to the COI Management Office in accordance with the Georgia Tech Conflict of Interest Policy (Faculty Handbook Section 5.6).

The Committee reviews employee disclosures and determines whether a conflict exists. If the Committee determines that a conflict is manageable, the Committee determines the requirements necessary to manage, reduce, or eliminate the conflict. If the Committee determines that a conflict is unmanageable, then the activity is not approved, and therefore is not allowed.

What are COI Management Plans?

COI Management Plans are designed to ensure that conflicts are appropriately managed, reduced, and or eliminated. Below is a list of common management plan tools:

  • Disclosure requirements
  • Reporting to funding agencies
  • Limitations on who may serve as a Principal Investigator (PI) on a sponsored project
  • Distinctions between activities appropriate for consulting and for sponsored programs
  • Limitations on ownership of stock or stock options
  • Technology transfer or licensing provisions
  • Designation of responsibility for control of donated funds
  • Provisions for the use of university facilities
  • Provisions for the employment of university students
  • Relationship to other funded projects and or proposals
  • Designation of parties responsible for review

What is generally included in a COI Management Plan?

While all management plans are tailored to address the unique conflicts of each case, general trends do exist. Typically, a COI Management Plan always includes demands for various disclosures and for mandatory Annual Monitoring Reports.

What is an Annual Monitoring Report and how does it related to COI?

An Annual Monitoring Report is mandated by every management plan issued by the COI Office. It requires the completion of a Conflicted Research Form, which will be sent to an investigator two weeks before the due date mentioned in the Management Plan. Reports must be completed and submitted by the due date, every year for the life of the grant. If they are not completed in a timely manner, the project is subject to loss of funding.

What happens if the COI Committee deems a conflict unmanageable?

If the COI Review Committee determines that a conflict is unmanageable, the proposed activity must be modified so that it can be managed. If this is not possible, the activity must be eliminated.

Startup Activities

What are some examples of startup-related duties that may present a financial conflict of interest?

  1. When faculty members serve as company officers, they owe a fiduciary duty to the company.
  2. If the faculty member’s fiduciary duty to act in the company’s best interest might conflict with his/her duty to the Institute as an employee.

These are key reasons why faculty members should never negotiate with the Institute on behalf of their startups.

When should I discuss my startup plans with the COI Office?

The best time to address any potential COI is in the landscaping/preliminary phase of the startup. The COI policy plays a significant role in how a startup should be designed. If faculty are aware of the policies before beginning, it is likely that managing any potential conflicts will be easier for faculty and any other parties involved.

What role can students have in startup projects?

Startup company formation and licensure of intellectual property related to Georgia Tech research is almost always fraught with real and potential conflicts of interests, and the COI Review Committee is responsible for determining whether conflicts can be managed or eliminated and for prohibiting activities that are unmanageable. When students are involved in the startup, issues are more complicated and place Georgia Tech in the position of not only meeting its entrepreneurial goals but also protecting students and the educational mission of the Institute.

What are some examples of Supervisory Conflicts?

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

Can a Georgia Tech facility and resources be utilized for a startup?

A clear line must be established that separates Institute activity from company activity. Unauthorized use of Institute facilities or resources for the startup company’s business may result in termination of employment and possible criminal charges for misuse of State Resources. Such resources include, but are not limited to, computers, staff effort including students or graduate assistants, mailing or contact lists, Institute email address and phones, office/lab space, office/lab supplies or equipment, and Institute funds.

Consulting Activities

Does consulting only happen if one is paid?

Not necessarily. Consulting can be paid or unpaid service. According to the Faculty Handbook Section 5.6.5:

"Consulting" means any professional activity related to the person's field or discipline (e.g., consulting, speaking, scientific advisory boards, paid attendance at company meetings, expert witness services, etc.), where a fee-for-service or equivalent relationship with a third party exists. Consulting includes organizing or operating any educational program outside Georgia Institute of Technology.

Consulting includes an activity related to the person’s field or discipline and requiring expertise in the same general area as the person’s professional training or field of education, or draws upon the same knowledge base and skills as required by the person’s primary employment with the Institute.

Consulting does not include professional service activities, even if those activities may pay an honorarium or stipend. Professional service includes activities that are normally done in service to non-profit organizations and are clearly recognized as roles expected from faculty members. According to the Faculty Handbook Section 5.6.5, professional service includes:

Service on national commissions, advisory bodies for governmental agencies and boards, granting agency peer review panels, visiting committees or advisory groups to other universities and on analogous bodies is not considered to be Consulting. The fundamental distinction between these activities and consulting is that they are public or Institute service. Although participants may receive an honorarium or equivalent, these professional service activities are not undertaken for personal financial gain.

Volunteer work through member activities and leadership roles in non-profit professional societies are considered professional service. A practical guideline is that if the work or activity is conducted for a for-profit entity, it is consulting. If the work or activity is for a company owned or partially owned by the faculty member, even if compensation is deferred for the activity, it is considered consulting. All consulting activities must be approved by an employee’s supervisor through the eCOI system.

What about past consulting activities? Do I need to retroactively take vacation time?

The policy regarding consulting leave for academic and research faculty who earn vacation leave was announced with the President’s memo of August 13, 2018, and takes effect with the August reporting period (reported via TimeOut). Individuals following Georgia Tech’s previous policies issued prior to this reporting period do not need to change their reporting time retroactively. The new policy requiring 12-month employees to take vacation time for consulting must be followed going forward.

Faculty on an academic year contract who do not earn vacation time may report consulting time, following all applicable policies.

Does the policy whereby faculty who earn vacation leave are not allowed to claim consulting time apply to former 9-month faculty members who were converted to a 12-month appointment when taking an administration position?

Yes, the policy applies to all employees who accrue vacation leave, regardless of their previous appointment status.

Does this new consulting policy apply to work and assignments in another Georgia Tech unit?

For research faculty, academic faculty, and staff in any Georgia Tech unit, additional work performed for another unit of Georgia Tech is not considered consulting. However, work performed in another unit for additional compensation is subject to the Institute’s Policy on Extra Compensation.

Prior to the start of the work, the assignment must be approved by the employee’s supervisor with consideration of how the assignment aligns within the employee’s workload, compliance with all applicable regulations, and normal work hours. Work hours may be shifted to accommodate work performed in another Georgia Tech unit if deemed appropriate by the supervisor, if compliant with all applicable federal regulation, and if appropriate to the employee’s regular work assignments. (GTRI employees should follow the guidance in the next question.)

Work performed (including instruction) for units external to Georgia Tech, must be approved by an employee’s supervisor, through the eCOI system.

Does this new consulting policy include GTRI faculty members who teach non-credit courses for Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE)?

Since both GTRI and GTPE are units of Georgia Tech, teaching assignments in GTPE are not considered consulting. Any work in another Georgia Tech unit must be approved by the employee’s supervisor prior to the activity. For adherence to GTRI’s federally compliant time-keeping practices, GTRI employees must report vacation time for extra compensation assignments performed during GTRI’s normal business hours (per the Policy on Extra Compensation). GTRI’s normal business hours are set at the core business hours of Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Should faculty members who are consistently on summer pay panels rather than 12-month contracts be converted to 12-month contracts?

No, that is not necessary for compliance with this policy. The decision as to whether a faculty member is on a 9-month or 12-month contract should be determined by the requirements of their position and set by their chair and/or dean.

Faculty on 9-month (academic) contracts who are paid summer salary, do not accrue vacation leave and are not subject to reporting vacation leave for consulting time for compliance with the policy.

Can faculty who are on 12-month contracts shift to 9-month contracts with summer pay panels in order to keep the consulting with no vacation taken privilege?

The decision as to whether a faculty member is on a 9-month or 12-month contract should be determined by the requirements of their position and set by their chair and/or dean.

Do I have to report my “moonlighting” job in eCOI?

According to the Faculty Handbook Section 5.6.5, moonlighting is described as the following:

An employee may pursue a variety of endeavors for financial profit that are not directly related to the person’s field or discipline. These efforts are part of the faculty member's private life and do not come under Institute regulation for this consulting policy. Such endeavors may be pursued only after the primary commitment to the Institute has been fulfilled and upon prior approval from a Responsible Unit Official of the Institute.

Moonlighting is work unrelated to an employee’s expertise or responsibilities as a University System of Georgia (USG) employee and is not considered consulting. Moonlighting activities do not require eCOI reporting and approval, but employees must discuss any activity for which they earn income with their supervisor to be sure both are comfortable that there is no real or perceived COI or conflict of commitment. Conflict of commitment is present when outside activities and business interests interfere with an employee’s primary commitment to Georgia Tech.

It should be noted that in accordance with BOR Policy 8.2.18.2 on Conflicts of Interest and Conflicts of Commitment, employees who are involved in selecting vendors or evaluating the performance of vendors may not receive compensation from an Institute vendor or entity seeking a vendor relationship with the Institute, or enter into a formal relationship with the vendor even if uncompensated, regardless of the nature of the work.

If I am on partial leave of absence, do I have to report my consulting?

Yes, as an employee of the Institute receiving compensation, your consulting activities must always be reported to your supervisor through eCOI. All faculty leaves must be approved by the Institute through the Office of Faculty Affairs.

If I am on full leave of absence, do I have to report my consulting?

No, if a faculty member is on a full leave (receiving no compensation from the Institute), it is not necessary to report consulting activities during this time. All faculty leaves must be approved by the Institute through the Office of Faculty Affairs.

Is working for other USG institutions considered consulting?

Income earned in service to another USG institution falls under joint staffing (dual appointment) policies and must be approved by both Georgia Tech and the collaborating USG School in accordance with the Staffing Policy in the Employment Policy Manual. The Dual Appointment Agreement process must be followed and paperwork must be signed by the President’s designee of both institutions before work commences.

For more information about the process, see information on Georgia Tech’s Dual Appointment Agreements and the Process for Faculty Dual Appointments when Georgia Tech is the Requesting Institution.

Do professional service activities need to be disclosed in eCOI?

For U.S. based entities, activities that qualify for professional service (see definition above) do not need to be reported through eCOI. However, foreign entities must disclose all financial interests received from a foreign institution of higher education or the government of another country (which includes local, provincial, or equivalent governments of another country), regardless of whether the activity qualifies as a professional service.

How do we handle honorarium for faculty professional service activities?

If an honorarium or stipend is provided to a faculty member for professional service activities in lieu of expenses, the funds must be first applied to any travel expenses related to the activity (rather than seeking reimbursement from Institute sources). If a modest honorarium or stipend is provided in addition to covering travel expenses, it is appropriate for the faculty member to keep the payment. As a reminder, professional service is generally service provided to a non-profit entity. Services provided to a for-profit entity or for significant compensation must be reported to one’s supervisor and reviewed as possible consulting activity.

If I am a faculty member who earns vacation leave, am I required to use vacation leave for professional service activities if I receive an honorarium?

No, professional service is considered part of the expected duties of a faculty member, and it is not necessary to take vacation leave. Faculty members should discuss professional service activities and any associated honorarium or stipends with their supervisor to ensure appropriateness. Any modest honorarium or stipend in excess of expenses is considered incidental.

I have a one-hour expert witness call (or other activity meeting the definition of consulting) during my regular business week. Do I have to declare vacation for an hour?

For faculty members who accrue vacation (i.e. annual leave), vacation time must be reported for the time spent engaged in consulting activities during the normal business week. For faculty who do not accrue vacation leave, consulting time must be reported for the time engaged in the consulting activity. As with all consulting, prior approval of expert witness activities via eCOI is required.

Policies, Regulations, and Training

What sort of training is available on policy and regulatory requirements?

Georgia Tech provides training that supports investigator disclosures as well as specialized topics, including COI reporting requirements for sponsors (e.g., NIH), information to be made accessible to the public, and reporting of reimbursed or sponsored travel.

  1. Financial Conflict of Interest training: Integrity and compliance training is required for investigators before engaging in sponsored research immediately under designated circumstances and every four years thereafter. 
  2. Annual Integrity and Compliance Campaign: This campaign includes training modules that can be completed on a desktop or laptop computer. Each module takes no more than 30 minutes to complete, and the entire campaign does not have to be completed at one time. 
  3. Employee Onboarding: All new employees are automatically enrolled in the New Hire Learning and Compliance program and receive an email within their first week of employment with instructions on how to complete the program. The full program takes approximately six hours to complete and covers: ethical decision-making, workplace conduct, Title IX and anti-harrassment, cybersecurity, conflicts of interest, and the Georgia Tech Policy Library (including the process by which new policies are written, reviewed, and implemented).

Where can I find Georgia Tech’s Conflict of Interest policies?

Georgia Tech Policy Library
5.6 Conflict of Interest and Outside Professional Activity Policy

University System of Georgia
8.2.18 Personnel Conduct  (Includes several sections on Code of Conduct, Conflict of Interest, Apparent Conflict of Interest, Conflict of Commitment, Faculty Outside Consulting, and more. )

What regulations govern Georgia Tech’s Conflict of Interest policies?

Georgia Code of Ethics for Government Service (O.C.G.A. § 45-10-2) NIH Rules - Objectivity in Research: NSF – Investigator Financial Disclosure Policy: October 7, 1996

 

What is a Conflict of Interest (COI)?

A Conflict of Interest is any situation in which it reasonably appears that an employee’s financial interest could bias or appear to bias the design, conduct, or reporting of activities funded or proposed for funding by a sponsor. Also considered a conflict is any situation where the personal interest of an employee or his/her family may prevent or appear to prevent the employee from making an unbiased decision with respect to the employee’s institutional duties.

Why does Georgia Tech care about COI?

Georgia Tech cares about conflicts of interest to preserve the public’s trust in the knowledge discovered and disseminated by the Institute. In addition, Georgia Tech’s COI policy overtly protects both the Institute and the faculty member from the appearance of bias or other forms of undue influence.

Are all Conflicts of Interest unfavorable?

No, conflicts are to be managed as opposed to feared. They are indicative of the natural outgrowth of successful research and commercialization efforts, and many faculty members manage these conflicts within the Institute’s policy.

What are some examples of situations that may create a COI?

In direct relation to research, these types of financial interests could create a COI if they could bias or appear to bias the design, conduct, or reporting of research:

  • 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)

What is an Institutional Conflict of Interest?

Institutional conflicts of interest occur when the Institute or one of its affiliated entities (including but not limited to Georgia Tech Research Corporation, Georgia Tech Applied Research Corporation, Georgia Tech Foundation, or Georgia Advanced Technology Ventures) has a financial stake in a particular outcome of its research programs or licensed technology. A conflict might arise out of an equity interest in a startup that licenses technology from the Institute or in the nature of royalties to be earned.

What is a Conflict of Commitment?

A Conflict of Commitment can occur if an employee’s outside professional activities hinder the employee from fulfilling institutional duties. To ensure that this is avoided, the Georgia Tech Faculty handbook section 5.6, states the following:

Conflict of Commitment: The purpose of the policy on consulting and related activities is to state with both clarity and generality the limits on the time that an Institute Faculty member may spend in consulting. The limits set forth below are intended to strike a balance between consulting and regular duties within the Institute and serve to safeguard the interest of both parties. In cases of ambiguity, the primary guide should be the intention to promote the interests of the Institute as a place of education, learning, and research. It is the Faculty’s obligation to obtain prior consent from the appropriate Institute officer.

What is a Significant Financial Interest?

A Significant Financial Interest consists of one or more of the following interests of the Investigator (and those of the Investigator’s spouse and dependent children). The threshold for “Significance” is currently $5,000 (fees, equity or a combination of both).

  • Anything of monetary value, including but not limited to, salary or other payments for services (e.g., consulting fees or honoraria)

All Equity interests (e.g., stocks, stock options, or other ownership interests) should be disclosed. Any equity interest in non-publicly traded entities is “significant.”