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Frequently Asked Questions

General FAQs

I have an idea for a product or technology, who should I contact first?

If you are a student, the Morris L. Hayhurst LaunchLab will be your first point of contact. The LaunchLab can help you refine your idea, connect to resources, and set you on the right course. If you are a faculty member or have WVU owned intellectual property, the Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) will assist you with your idea or invention. OTT can help with prior art searches, patent protection, and licensing of technology.

What resources are available for graduate students, postdocs, and faculty who want to explore creating a start-up?

WVU has tremendous support for entrepreneurial employees, which are all part of the Mountaineer Innovation Ecosystem. This ecosystem includes programming, resource support, 1:1 coaching, connection to state resources, access to maker labs and prototyping facilities, and much more.

To get connected with these resources or for general questions and support around university Start-ups, please contact the Office of Student and Faculty Innovation. The Office of Student and Faculty Innovation is designed to guide university employees, graduate students and postdocs through the process and steps associated with forming and participating in university Start-ups. In addition, this office provides informational resources and education around SBIR/STTR grants, connection to state ecosystem resources, access to the Regional and National Science Foundation I-Corps program, and connections to mentors and business advisors.

What can’t the University do to assist me with my faculty-associated start-up?

Although the University can provide some guidance, educational programming, and connection to outside resources and mentors as detailed above, there are limits on what resources the University can provide to outside private companies, including faculty-associated start-ups.

Due to federal and state laws, the University is prohibited from treating a faculty member’s private company differently than any other private company. And University units involved in commercializing University intellectual property must represent the University’s interests only.

By way of some limited examples, the Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) can negotiate the subcontract or subaward on behalf of the University and it can even provide templates for both the private company and University to enter into a legally binding agreement. However, without jeopardizing the University’s non-profit status, OSP cannot negotiate any agreement for, or on behalf of, a faculty member’s private company. Similarly, the Office of General Counsel cannot provide legal advice and guidance to a faculty member’s private company, and the Office of Technology Transfer cannot negotiate licensing agreements for a faculty member’s private company. The University cannot write grants or administer grants issued to a faculty member’s private company. The University cannot provide accounting services for faculty member’s private company.

Important Rules and Policies

What University policies should I be aware of in exploring start-up opportunities?

The two most important rules are: BOG Rule 1.4 – Ethics, Conflict of Interest, and Outside Consulting Arrangements and BOG Rule 1.5 – Rule for Intellectual Property Rule for Patent, Copyright and Trademark Rights .

BOG Rule 1.4 governs conflicts of interest and external activities for all faculty and staff. BOG Rule 1.5 governs intellectual property ownership and rewards.

What are some of the key aspects of BOG Rule 1.4 that I should be aware of?

BOG Rule 1.4 defines conflicts of interest, conflicts of commitment, and outside consulting arrangements.

First, a Conflict of Interest occurs when there is a divergence between a University Employee’s private, personal relationships or interests and their professional obligations to the University such that a reasonable observer might question whether the individual’s professional actions or decisions are determined by or substantially altered by considerations of personal benefit, gain, or advantage.

Within the area of research, conflicts of interest may exist where a significant financial interest (SFI) for research could directly affect (or appear to affect) the design, conduct or reporting of research or other activity sponsored by, or related to, an outside entity.

Second, a full-time faculty or staff member’s primary commitment of their time and intellectual effort must be to the teaching, research, scholarship and service missions of WVU. A conflict of commitment may arise when external activities (i.e., those that do not relate to the University) exceed reasonable time limits or become the faculty or staff member’s primary professional responsibilities.

Third, an outside consulting arrangement is any outside employment, arrangement or contract where a full-time faculty or non-classified staff member provides their expertise to a third party as an independent contractor and in which the expertise is, directly or indirectly, related to the employee’s employment or job duties with WVU.

Special considerations exist where the SBIR/STTR grants are sought in relation to a Faculty Associated Start-up. Please contact the COI Office for more detailed information when considering this funding mechanism.

Additionally, Rule 1.4 and its supporting materials listed below detail the required approvals and forms that must be completed associated with these areas.

BOG Rule 1.4 – Ethics, Conflicts of Interest, and Outside Consulting Arrangements

Outside Consulting Approval Form

Outside Consulting Annual Disclosure

Ethics, Conflicts of Interest and Outside Consulting Arrangements FAQs

Outside Consulting Arrangements Do's and Don'ts

What are some of the key aspects of BOG Rule 1.5 that I should be aware of?

Under BOG Rule 1.5, WVU owns Intellectual Property (IP) created by Faculty and Staff within the scope of their employment within the University or with more than Incidental Use of University Resources.

“University Resources” means all tangible and intangible property and resources supplied by the University, including, without limitation, facilities, Information Technology Resources, space, University personnel, supplies, and University funds or funds administered by the University, including, without limitation, funds derived from outside grants, contributions, and research contracts.

Additionally, Rule 1.5 outlines the revenue distribution for any WVU licensed IP. Generally speaking, where the University has an ownership interest in Intellectual Property pursuant to this Rule, the following distribution of Revenue shall control: Employee/Student: 40% of Net Proceeds Department/Division: 10% of Net Proceeds College/School: 10% of Net Proceeds University: 40% of Net Proceeds

If more than one Employee or Student created the subject Intellectual Property, the 40% share of Net Proceeds shall be distributed according to the percentage contribution to the Intellectual Property by each Employee or Student as determined by the creators and as identified on the IP Disclosure Form or Copyright Form.

Conflict of Interest as Related to Faculty-Associated Start-Ups

How are the Conflict of Interest policies relevant to Faculty-Associated Start-Ups?

Generally speaking, when a faculty member has an ownership interest in a private company, a conflict of interest may arise between faculty member’s responsibilities and interests in their company and their professional obligations to the University.

Next, if a faculty member is committing time and effort to a non-University entity, while still owing their primary professional duty and effort to the University as a full-time Employee, a conflict of commitment can arise.

Lastly, a conflict of interest in research arises when a University employee has a SFI in a company (ownership or other), and the employee intends to engage in research funded by, or related to that company. The conflict arises both when the employee intends to participate in the research on behalf of the University or the company.

The following examples of Conflicts of Interest and Conflicts of Commitment related to research:

  • The potential for the research to be viewed as biased or not objective since the investigator may have financial benefit from the outcome of the research due to their interests in/relationship with the company, as well as intellectual property resulting from the research for which the company would be a likely commercial vehicle;

  • The potential for the PI to use University space, personnel and resources to benefit the company; and

  • The potential for the blurring of the non-profit/for-profit boundary, in that the tax-exempt facilities could be used in a way that competitively advantages the for-profit company.

How do I manage these potential conflicts of interest when forming a Faculty-Associated Start-Up?

WVU is committed to avoiding either perceived or actual conflict of interest issues with respect to Faculty-Associated Start-ups.

If you are interested in exploring the formation of a faculty-associated start-up, good communication and frequently updated disclosures are key. As a first step, please immediately contact the University’s Conflict of Interest Office to discuss all disclosures, approvals, and documentation that you may need to complete in order to fully disclose and manage the potential conflict. It is necessary to ensure that you have provided complete and accurate disclosures.

The Conflict of Interest Office can then assist you in evaluating any potential conflict of interests and formulating an appropriate COI Management Plan. A COI Management Plan is an agreed plan to take action to address a Conflict of Interest or Conflict of Commitment, which may include eliminating the conflict, to ensure, to the extent possible, that the Employee’s actions do not violate the West Virginia Ethics Act, University Rules, or any other relevant laws, regulations, policies, or procedures.

If you currently have an ownership stake in a company and have not recorded that with the Conflict of Interest Office, please contact them. It is the faculty’s obligation to ensure that these disclosures are properly made and documented.

All Conflicts of Interest and Conflicts of Commitment, potential and actual, must be disclosed to your supervisor, who may include additional requirements on behalf of the department or unit to further mitigate the Conflicts of Interest and Conflicts of Commitment addressed in the following FAQs.

What do I need to do if I want to work for my Faculty-Associated Start-Up while maintaining my full-time position at WVU?

WVU is committed to innovation and entrepreneurship and seeks to help Faculty effectively balance their university employment obligations with the requirements of their grants and / in fulfilling their interest in forming new companies.

To ensure faculty and University employees can successfully manage their primary full time employment with the University, WVU encourages faculty and staff to create a plan that would allow them to transition out of a chief executive position with a company once the duties involved in that position become burdensome to their full time University appointment. This timeline for transition can vary widely due to a number of factors, including how quickly the company increases in size, the amount of funding a company receives, and expansion of the company. That said, WVU allows employees to maintain active relationships with companies such as scientific advisor, board member, and co-founder positions.

If a faculty or staff plans to commit time and effort to a Faculty-Associated Start-Up, they must obtain approval of the non-University work by filing the Outside Consulting Approval Form, and the accompanying Annual Disclosure if necessary, prior to any work being conducted on behalf of the private company. Where this work has ANY relationship to ongoing or proposed research in which the faculty is engaged under the auspices of WVU, COI Office review is required.

If you are currently doing work for a non-University entity, and it is not being done as part of your University duties, you should fill out the Outside Consulting Approval Form and submit it for approval immediately to your Dean or designee. It is the faculty’s obligation to ensure that these approvals are timely obtained and documented.

How much of my time can I devote to my Faculty-Associated Start-Up?

Faculty members and employees that accrue annual leave are not permitted to work on outside endeavors during normal University working hours. If the individual intends to conduct non-University work during normal University working hours, they must take annual leave. If a leave eligible faculty member or employee anticipates that participating in a company may require them to work during the normal University working hours, they are encouraged to reach out to their dean, chair, or supervisor as soon as possible and discuss possible solutions, such as adjusting their normal University working hours or creating an alternative plan.

Employees that do not accrue annual leave are permitted to work on non-University work for eight (8) hours per week. They should be conscious of the amount of time they are committing to all non-University employment or consulting and ensure that it does not exceed, on average over the course of a year, eight (8) hours per week.

Whether or not the work on outside endeavors overlaps with normal University hours or exceeds the 8hr/wk limitation, if the outside work is related to the professional responsibilities (including research) of the employee, the appropriate disclosures must be made.

Can I use my WVU lab space or other University resources (email, phone, office, etc.) to advance my Faculty-Associated Start-Up?

Generally speaking, no. You can only use University resources for private usage or private business usage a de minimis amount. However, if you wish to use your lab space or other University resources to advance your Faculty-Associated Start-Up, you must first seek approval from your Dean and put a facility use agreement in place with a reimbursement plan. Please contact the Office of Student and Faculty Innovation for assistance with the process of a facility use agreement. Documentation of any agreements will be required by the COI Office during initial and ongoing review.

Can I hire students, postdocs, or other University employees that I supervise to work for my Faculty-Associated Start-Up?

There is tremendous value for graduate students and postdocs engaging with outside companies to enable potential career paths and gain practical experience. WVU does, however, want to ensure that no student, postdoc, or subordinate employee ever be in a position where they feel coerced, pressured or intimidated into working with or for a company. This can occur in instances where a direct supervisor has interest or ownership in a company.

In cases where a supervisor is interested in recruiting a subordinate to work in or with a company, which the supervisor has an interest in, the matter should be discussed with the Conflicts of Interest Office. In these cases, a questionnaire related to the activities and impact on the subordinate will be completed for consideration by the University. Both parties must agree to the expectations of the University and company such that a student’s advancement towards graduation is not impacted and an employee’s role with the University is not un-justly compromised. Should an advisee or employee of the faculty member feel that these guidelines are or were breached, they are to seek immediate guidance from their department chair or the COI Office.

Negotiations, Transactions, and Licensing Relating to Faculty-Associated Start-Ups

Can I personally negotiate with the University on behalf of my Faculty-Associated Start-Up while still employed by the University?

No. If you are fully employed by the University, you must refrain from negotiating on behalf of the company with the University. Your Faculty-Associated Start-Up must designate an individual who is not an employee of the University and is authorized to make decisions on behalf of the company to lead any negotiations with the University. This ensures that the working relationship between employee and University is maintained without conflict.

What is pipelining and what should I know regarding my Faculty-Associated Start-Up?

Pipelining refers to situations when university created IP has been licensed to an outside entity but continues to be improved upon or researched using university resources.

WVU understands that faculty members and other University employees often have domain expertise which can be of great value to both the University and outside private entities. At times this may present challenges when separating academic research initiatives from company or private research activities. When a technology invented by a University employee is licensed to an outside entity, that University inventor should wind down specific research activities that relate to the licensed work unless a sponsored research agreement is in place between the University and the licensee. Contributions to furthering the licensed intellectual property can occur under arranged legal agreements, such as sponsored research, but should not be done outside of those agreements.

When a company has licensed technology from the University, University resources, including faculty members, existing University Intellectual Property, equipment, lab space and other relevant components should not be used for further development of that technology unless through agreed upon arrangements (e.g. sponsored research). When technology or intellectual property is licensed to a company, the ownership of improvements or related inventions will be clearly delineated in the license or related agreements between the University and the business and in most instances WVU will own related Intellectual Property.

Any other new intellectual property or intellectual property that falls outside the scope of the legal arrangements and is invented by University employees using University resources, will be treated as any other new discovery or intellectual property at the University and will fall under BOG rule 1.5. Should a company want rights to additional or related technology then a new license agreement or amendment to an existing agreement will be considered.

What University office handles arranges to license or use University-owned IP by Faculty-Associated Start-Ups or other private entities?

Office of Technology Transfer. Contact the Office of Technology Transfer at

What types of licensing arrangements may be available to my Faculty-Associated Start-Up in its early or initial phases?

An option agreement is often used to reserve rights to a technology so that a company can begin exploring funding opportunities in order to actually acquire the rights in question. It is often preferred to provide a start-up company with an option to license, rather than an outright license itself until the start-up company can sufficiently demonstrate its ability to sustain terms of a license agreement. This simplifies the negotiation and if the start-up business is successful in obtaining funding, provides better incentive for WVU to license to the company. The University may grant options for any time period up to one year in duration, most often in 6-month increments.

What else should I know about licensing agreements with the University for University-owned IP?

WVU has a rich history of translating inventions, and these practices are designed to build on that strong base. It’s important for inventors to understand that this policy covering options and licenses is intended to enable inventors to succeed in translating their technologies into use without jeopardizing the mission or funding status of WVU. Sometimes a faculty-associated start-up is the best choice for a licensing arrangement and sometimes it is not.

License agreements may be negotiated after or without a prior option agreement. License agreement terms are dependent on a number of factors including the cost to develop the technology, its stage of development, and market comps for similar industry technologies based on public databases and proprietary information and may be exclusive or non-exclusive. Generally speaking, the Office of Technology Transfer will seek a detailed business on how the entity will advance or commercialize the technology with delineated milestones to be achieved on a reasonable timeline.

What are SBIR and STTR mechanisms as they relate to my Faculty-Associated Start-up?

Various federal agencies provide funding to small businesses to conduct research and development with the goal of commercializing technology. This federal funding occurs via two different award mechanisms:

(1) Small Business Innovation Research ("SBIR")

(2) Small Business Technology Transfer ("STTR")

Both SBIR and STTR awards are made directly to a small business concern (“SBC”). An SBC is a for-profit company that is the applicant for a SBIR/STTR award. In this section of the guidance, we use the terms SBC and company interchangeably.

STTRs require that the SBC collaborate with a research institution (“RI”) for a certain portion of the award. SBIRs do not require RI involvement, but SBCs often collaborate with RIs on SBIRs. A RI is the research institution partner, such as WVU, that collaborates with an SBC for a SBIR/STTR award through a subcontract/subaward under the SBC.

WVU meets the criteria to serve as a RI for SBIRs and STTRs. WVU’s involvement in either a SBIR or a STTR occurs when it is either included in the proposal or the federal sponsor has provided approval to SBC to engage with the university and is awarded via a subcontract/subaward from the SBC to the university. In cases where there is a collaboration/subcontract/subaward between the SBC and the RI, there is an SBC PI and an RI PI (i.e. a PI for each side of the collaboration).

Participation in SBIR/STTR programs by WVU faculty through a SBC can create conflicts of interest (COIs) on the part of the faculty members. This happens when a faculty member is the co-founder or owner of the SBC applying for the funding, and simultaneously will do research on a subaward between the SBC and WVU. Among the reasons for the COI are:

  • The potential for the research to be viewed as biased or not objective since the investigator may have financial benefit from the outcome of the research due to their interests in/relationship with the company, as well as intellectual property resulting from the research for which the company would be a likely commercial vehicle;

  • Concern that the individual may be using their WVU lab, students, staff, funds or other WVU resources to support their SBC, jeopardizing academic research and the progress of their students or staff; and

  • The potential for the blurring of the non-profit/for-profit boundary, in that the tax-exempt facilities could be used in a way that competitively advantages the for-profit company.

Additionally, if the SBC has licensed the IP from WVU, this also presents the possibility of an institutional conflict of interest, whereby WVU might benefit financially from the success of the SBC that has licensed its technology. Therefore, we must implement a COI management plan to manage not only the personal financial conflict of interest for the involved faculty, but also the institutional COI for WVU.

What steps are important to consider when applying for an SBIR or STTR?

- Contact the Office of Student and Faculty Innovation for more information and guidance on the steps WVU employees should take when applying for these grants. In addition, reach out to your school dean’s office and the WVU COI Office to facilitate proactive consideration of the situation, to ensure that the COI can be adequately managed, and a COI plan instituted (if/as needed) for all relevant parties

- Ensure that your interests in the company have been fully disclosed in WVU+kc; any equity (e.g., ownership) interests in a start-up company, even if the value is currently nothing or unknown, meet the criteria for “significant financial interest” and need to be disclosed. (Required within 30 days of acquiring the interest)

- Ensure that you have received departmental approval for the external activity using the Outside Consulting Approval form. (Required prior to undertaking – per policy)

- Verify that the sponsor does not have specific prohibitions around such arrangements that you should be cognizant of when planning the research proposal (e.g., ensure that the sponsor does not prohibit the University PI on the STTR from having any financial interests in/with the company that is the prime proposal applicant, etc.)

- Ensure that your company has the adequate resources to carry out the company portion of the work being proposed, from both technical and administrative standpoints (including but not limited to personnel and effort, place of performance, space and equipment needed to carry out the research, etc.)

- Ensure you have a compliant plan around what exactly the company portion of the work, and the University portion of the work, respectively, will entail (including but not limited to personnel and effort, place of performance, space and equipment needed to carry out the research, etc.); if University resources or equipment are needed for any aspect of the company portion of the research, engage OSP to ensure that appropriate agreements and budgetary issues are considered

- Ensure that you have named the PI of the company portion of the research and the University portion of the research, respectively, and that they are not the same individual

The PI of the company portion of the research and the university portion of the research may not be the same individual. STTRs require that the company formally collaborate with a non-profit research institution (e.g., a university). STTR Phase I awards require that at least 40% of work on the project be performed by the company and that the collaborating university perform at least 30% of the work. STTR Phase I awards require that the company PI commit a minimum of 1.2 calendar months (10% effort) and must have a formal appointment with, or commitment to, the company.

Although STTRS/SBIRs are indeed collaborations, the STTR/SBIR policy, instructions, and project percentage requirements/effort make clear that establishing a separation of entities and roles is important. The company and collaborating research institution are referred to as separate parties. Having the same person on both sides of the collaboration blurs the respective parties’ project % and effort % requirements/commitments. Most university researchers are committed 100% institutionally at the university among their academic, research, and other commitments, and therefore, do not likely have the effort available to meet the effort requirements of serving as the company PI of an SBIR or STTR.