Today at Berkeley Lab

Taking Lab Tech to Market? Why You Need to Have Your Commercialization Arrangement Reviewed

This is part two in a three-part Conflict of Interest series intended to help Berkeley Lab employees understand their responsibilities with regards to outside employment, commercializing Lab technology, and financial decisions they may influence (or appear to influence) as a Lab official.

Want help navigating the conflict of interest/recusal process? This site takes you through the decision process.

Steve Yannone and Jill Fuss (pictured) were co-mentoring a summer student 10 years ago when they discovered the basis for their startup, CinderBio, a biosciences company that uses extreme microbes patented by Berkeley Lab to make a new class of ultra-stable enzyme formulations for industrial applications.

“Steve and I decided we should commercialize the enzymes because they could make a huge difference in industry,” said Fuss, a research scientist in biophysics and biochemistry at Berkeley Lab.

Fuss and Yannone formed CinderBio, and CinderBio worked with the Lab’s Intellectual Property Office to license the lab technology they had developed. As Lab employees spinning out Lab technology under a license, Fuss and Yannone went through the Lab’s conflict of interest review process, which includes reviewing and separating the employee’s Lab research and responsibilities from the employee’s research and responsibilities at the startup. Separations in research, roles and responsibilities provide for clear determinations on intellectual property ownership by the company and Berkeley Lab.

CinderBio’s scientific mission is significantly different from what Fuss works on at Berkeley Lab –her Berkeley Lab research focuses on the structural biology of DNA repair. CinderBio’s initial focus has been on the dairy processing industry, where their enzymes have significantly reduced the vast amounts of chemicals and water used to clean equipment.

To clear the extra-curricular employment, the pair went through the Compensated Outside Professional Activity (COPA) process, which requires that all Lab employees (including rehired retirees, faculty appointees, and employees at any type of appointment or level of effort) comply with the following guidelines:

  • All Berkeley Lab employees must obtain approval before engaging in compensated outside activities in the area of their Berkeley Lab work.
  • If you are considering engaging in consulting, or serving on science advisory boards or boards of directors, outside employment, or providing advisory services, you need to get institutional approval prior to engaging in the outside work.
  • Income, wages, and salary are all considered compensation. Stock, stock options, or other forms of equity and ownership are considered compensation, even if the equity currently has no value. Gifts given for work performed (such as travel beyond reasonable business travel) are also considered compensation.
  • If the outside organization offers you a written agreement of any kind, you will need to provide it for review by Berkeley Lab’s patent attorneys before signing it. This includes consulting or employment agreements, intellectual property acknowledgements, and any other written agreement.
  • Your research, role and responsibilities at Berkeley Lab should be clearly separate from your research, role and responsibilities under the outside employment to prevent the risk that your outside activity will bias or influence your Berkeley Lab research for your or the company’s personal benefit.

In Fuss’s case, her Berkeley Lab supervisor worked with her to allow her to reduce her percent effort at the Lab as CinderBio enjoyed success and grew. CinderBio is now part of Cyclotron Road’s Cohort Four, and Fuss is working full-time on CinderBio through the Cyclotron Road fellowship program.

Reporting and approval requirements apply to all employees, including faculty and rehired retirees, regardless of the percent of time the individual is employed at LBNL; these rules also apply during periods of work deferment. This process is not required for outside work clearly unrelated to an employee’s Berkeley Lab role, such as at retail sales, ranching, residential real estate sales, etc. Employees who need to report outside work can use this link to access the online Compensation for Outside Professional Activity form. If employees need help getting started, they can reference the Getting Started with a Compensated Outside Professional Activity link.

For questions about conflict of interest issues, please contact Molly Stoufer.

Go here to read part one in the series on ‘Why You Need to Have Your Outside Consulting Gig Reviewed”