1. Why it has become important to deal with the problem of conflicts of interest

Why it has become important to deal with the problem of conflicts of interest

Universities have traditionally made contributions to society through higher education and academic research, but in recent years, expectations for the intellectual property resources of universities have grown as the issues facing society and humans become more serious. Therefore, there are demands for universities to make more positive contributions to society in the short term.
If universities encourage university-industry collaboration even more than before to meet those demands, the financial interests that universities or faculty members receive from private enterprises will grow, which will result in clashes between their professional responsibilities and personal interests. In addition, there have arisen situations where universities themselves earn fee revenue for patents they hold and acquire shares in venture companies created at the universities.
In other words, the more active university-industry collaborations become, the more frequently conflicts of interest arise. Creating systems and rules to handle conflicts of interest, therefore, has become an unavoidable task to do in promoting university-industry collaboration.

2. Definition of conflicts of interest

Definition of conflict of interest

  • A conflict of interest may arise when there is a divergence between interests received from private enterprises and his or her professional obligations to the university.
  • In the above definition, if “interests received from private enterprises” is replaced with “obligations placed on him or her by private enterprises,” it becomes a conflict of commitment.
    Therefore, a conflict of commitment primarily may occur when a faculty member holds a separate job concurrently outside the university. Broadly defined conflict of interest includes narrowly defined conflict of interest and a conflict of commitment.
  • A conflict of interest can occur not only for an individual, but also for a university as an institution. That is, if there is a conflict between interests that an institution (university) receives and its social responsibilities as a university, an institutional conflict of interest may arise.

A conflict of interest is generally defined as a clash between personal interests and responsibilities of an individual in a position of responsibility (Conflict of Interest Working Group Report, Council for Science and Technology, Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, November 2002).

3. Purpose of conflict of interest policy

Because conflicts of interest are often related to financial interests received from private enterprises, the Conflict of Interest Policy mainly targets university-industry collaborations. The purpose of the Conflict of Interest Policy is to ensure the public trust in the University without weakening university-industry collaborative efforts by creating systems and rules to handle the problem of conflicts of interest.

4. Critical elements of conflicts of interest

Critical elements of conflicts of interest

A conflict of interest refers to a special situation that a faculty member is placed in; it is not directly related to actual losses for a university, or violations of laws or regulations. The problem is that because of that special situation, it may look to the public like the university’s integrity is debilitated (appearance), and if the university does not take any effective steps to manage the conflict of interest under such circumstances, the public trust in the university will be undermined. Therefore, it is critical to take preventive steps before the university’s integrity is actually compromised.

With conflicts of interest, the appearance of the university is important, and it is vital to implement preventive measures. It is necessary, therefore, to create a system to manage conflicts of interest and establish clear, simple rules for operating that system.

5. Scope of applicability

(1) Applicability of the Conflict of Interest Policy

  • a.Directors
  • b.Faculty
  • c.Other staff
  • d.Graduate students, post-docs, etc., employed by the University (for example, research assistants and researchers)

(2) Importance of considerations regarding educational aspects

Even in education, one of the main activities of the University, we are concerned about conflicts of interest. For example, there are possible cases in which students or graduate students cannot freely choose to take part in university-industry collaborations and also are required to conclude long-term non-disclosure agreements in order to protect patents and other intellectual properties. It is important in the routine university-industry collaborative activities to give sufficient consideration to these issues so as not to hinder the ability of students to act as they see fit.