patenting academic research discoveries, institutions that wish to take new discoveries from the laboratory to the clinic, such as was described above with the formation of the Dome Corporation and Triad Investors by the Johns Hopkins University, will have to take careful measures to avoid conflicts of interest. This is clearly a topic that needs careful monitoring and attention from a public policy standpoint.
Clearly, bias created through conflicts of interest by investigators undermines the academic research process and the credibility of academic research institutions. The heterogeneity of academic research institutions and their affiliates suggests that there is no universally applicable standard or formula for dealing with conflicts of interest. Furthermore, according to Shipp (1992), the goal in managing conflicts of interest should not be to eliminate all potential sources of conflicts: rather, the objective should be to control the injection of inappropriate bias into research and other professional activities.
Although investigators can be expected to exert some level of self-control over their outside interests, it is probably unreasonable and unwise to depend entirely on researchers to identify, disclose, and manage all of their own potential conflicts of interest (Shipp, 1992). Ambiguity in guidelines often makes distinguishing between acceptable and questionable practices difficult and requires oversight by institutions. Thus, institutions must have a role in aiding their researchers in identifying, monitoring, and controlling conflicts of interest. Whatever the policies of the institution, many would agree that avoiding conflicts of interest by the faculty requires full, timely, and public disclosure to avoid even the perception of impropriety (Blake, 1992).
With regard to academic-industry relationships, conflict of commitment is quite different from conflict of interest. Conflict of commitment pertains to whether a faculty member is fulfilling institutional obligations while subjected to competing demands for one's time (Porter, 1992). Conflicts of commitment frequently are more difficult to address and resolve than conflicts of interests, because they are often subtle and of varying degrees (Low, 1983). Resolution generally falls into one of two categories: discontinuing or reducing one's outside commitments in the commercial venture that caused the conflict or leaving the academic institution (Low, 1983). Because of the complexity of conflict of commitment, few policies exist, and those that do are generally vague and ambiguous. However, the Association of American Medical Colleges has suggested the following guidelines to obviate conflict of commitment:
Ensure that research, teaching, and public service obligations to the academic institution are met.