Adopted by the Faculty, September 1999
Updated December 1999
We share a common objective: to have, at the University of Washington, the strongest possible program of research and education in computer science and computer engineering, recognizing that our role as faculty is first and foremost to help our students reach their full potential.
While research and education are our core activities, commercial activities – which range from industrial research agreements to consulting to licensing to company creation – can be a natural offshoot of these core activities. Indeed, the University of Washington has an obligation to commercialize in some circumstances.
When conducted appropriately, commercial activities can enhance our strength, and positively impact the region, the economy, and society. However, commercial activities inevitably involve negotiations, self-interest, and the potential for conflict. They add tremendous complexity to the academic environment.
This document sets forth our shared principles regarding commercial activities. We endorse the spirit of the University of California Statement on Conflicts of Interest: "It has long been recognized that the only truly effective safeguard against conflict of interest situations is the integrity of the faculty and staff. A codification of the complex ethical questions involved, even if possible, would be unduly restrictive." Ultimately, we must rely upon personal integrity, and upon the shared culture that has been a hallmark of this department since its creation.
Quoting from the University of California Guidelines on University-Industry Relations: "First consideration must be given to the University's mission of teaching, research, and public service. In pursuing relationships with industry, the University must keep the public trust and maintain institutional independence and integrity to permit faculty and students to pursue learning and research freely." Commercial activities will be conducted subject to our common objective. They will be conducted in a way that would be judged highly ethical by an informed but disinterested third party, and that meets the "public interest" tests incumbent on a public university. They will be conducted in accordance with all University policies (and in particular with Vol. IV, Part V, Chapters 6 and 7 of the University of Washington Handbook). They will be open to the maximum extent possible.
All commercial activities will be disclosed at their inception to the Chair, who will involve the department’s Commercialization Oversight Committee at an appropriate time, and will work with the COC to involve and counsel affected parties. Note that commercialization is a "process" and not an "instant" – members of our community must be alert to its inception so that appropriate notification can take place, appropriate information can be shared, and appropriate precautions can be taken.
Nature of the academic environment
We are committed to an open academic environment in which ideas can be exchanged freely within the University, subject only to any contractual obligations (e.g., non-disclosure agreements) that the University may enter into with outside parties on our behalf. Any such obligation will be viewed as exceptional and will be entered into only after careful review by the Chair, the COC, and affected parties.
Publication of research results and distribution of research artifacts
Commercial activities will allow publication of research results and distribution of research artifacts to be conducted in a manner that preserves the collaborative spirit of academic research, enhances the pursuit of significant research efforts, and benefits the research community and the general public. Any decision to restrict dissemination will be viewed as exceptional and will be carefully reviewed by the Chair, the COC, and affected parties.
Individuals and groups will not act unilaterally to benefit personally from work developed as the result of collaboration with others, or through the use of University-administered funds.
Separation of roles
Faculty, staff, and students will not act as representatives of any commercial entity in negotiations with the University or any member of the University community. In exceptional circumstances (e.g., the absence of a third party who can act as an agent), the Chair and the COC may waive this requirement and provide special oversight.
All parties will be highly sensitive to power relationships (e.g., between faculty and students), which have the potential to coerce the weaker party to act against his or her academic, professional, financial, or other self-interest. An objective third party must be explicitly designated to oversee any situation involving two parties of unequal power.
Equitable treatment of all parties is a foundation of our department and will be a foundation of all commercial activities. (Note that an outcome can be equitable without being equal.)
Involvement and consultation
All parties will recognize that invention and company creation are distinct activities – playing a significant role in one of these activities is not necessarily correlated with playing a significant role in the other. However, those with significant involvement in the invention of a technology will be consulted early regarding any commercialization (protection, licensing, company creation) of that technology – well in advance of any filings or legal agreements.
Conflict of commitment
Commercial activities have the potential to create conflict of commitment -- the absorption of time and of intellectual capacity, to the extent than an individual may be physically present but disengaged. This is a breach of personal integrity, and of our shared culture.
Provision of information
The department is committed to educating all interested parties regarding commercial activities. Examples include organizing periodic information sessions, and maintaining:
- a web page with pointers to relevant resources
- a list of current commercial activities (subject to any confidentiality constraints that may from time to time arise)
- a list of "lessons learned" about the commercialization process
- a list of situations in which internal or external information exchange was restricted in some way
- an anonymized informational record of compensation received by students in commercial activities
- a collection of "model agreements" for consulting and other activities
Commercialization Oversight Committee
The Commercialization Oversight Committee will be appointed by the Chair in accordance with University and College policies. Example activities of the Commercialization Oversight Committee, working with the Chair, include:
- Being available to all those involved in or affected by commercial activities
- Paying particular attention to student-faculty interactions
- Participating in the mediation of conflicts
- Making necessary referrals
- Conducting semi-annual evaluations of all active commercial activities, in accordance with University and College policies
- Soliciting and documenting feedback on each commercial activity at its conclusion
- Taking responsibility for providing the information referred to above
Resources include the Commercialization Oversight Committee, the Chair, the Dean, the Office of Technology Licensing, and the University Ombudsperson.