Yesterday The Harvard Crimson published and article, “Tear Down This Wall? Harvard wants to get its research out of the lab—but are its policies standing in the way?” The article is a pretty lengthy discussion of the conflicts that a conflict-of-interest policy can have in the area of technology transfer at Harvard, particularly in he area of new venture creation. Young companies are often cash strapped and tend to prefer to compensate through stock options. Harvard has a black and white policy that would require the investigator to either decline the stock-based compensation or stop working on the research — neither of which is entirely desirable because both solutions mess up the incentives for working together. Other schools have similar policies, though allow for exceptions in exceptional situations.
It is clear to me that some type of policy is needed, though I’m not sure that an absolute policy of any kind is the best solution for something as dynamic as early-stage research. Harvard is trying to encourage its faculty to become more entrepreneurial. It will be interesting to watch how this policy evolves to make this prospect more enticing.