Carnegie Mellon University

Guidance for Consulting

In general, if you are consulting for a company but that company is not involved in your research at CMU in any way (via sponsored research, a subcontract, providing your CMU lab with equipment, etc.) then ORIC does not need to approve or manage this consulting relationship. We recommend that you speak with your manager or department head to ensure that you’re in compliance with any department-specific requirements. If the company is interested in giving a gift to CMU, University Advancement can provide guidance.

If you do intend to engage in CMU research involving a company that is also employing you as a consultant, please contact ORIC for a consultation. The specific details of your consulting will determine exactly what is necessary to disclose and manage any potential conflict of interest.

This guidance will give you a general idea of the issues that can arise and the best practices for handling them. Not all of these items apply to every consulting situation, and individual departments or colleges may have their own requirements that must also be satisfied.  If there is a conflict between ORIC's requirements and your department's, ORIC will work with you and your department head to resolve any issues.

  • As outlined in the Conflict of Commitment policy, your outside work should not engage in direct competition with the University. This means that work you can do in your CMU capacity, you should do at CMU, not as a private consultant. Some types of consulting make this an easy distinction; for example, a company might want you to consult on business development, commercialization, or other types of work that are not appropriate for CMU to undertake. If the situation is less clear-cut, consult with your department head and/or ORIC for guidance.
  • You should draw as clear a distinction as possible between the work you will do as a consultant and the work you will do at CMU to ensure there is no confusion about who owns the intellectual property stemming from your work. This might mean, for example, determining that your consulting work will focus on a particular technology or field of application separate from your research work at CMU.
  • Your consulting role should not include directing another organization’s money toward or away from CMU. For example, if you are consulting for a company that awards grant funds, you should recuse yourself from any involvement in that funding decision at the company where CMU is one of the potential grantees.
  • If you are a faculty member, the Policy on Consulting by Faculty spells out how you may spend your time on consulting work. Your department or college may have additional requirements.
  • If you are staff or a student, there is no campus-wide consulting policy that applies to you. Your supervisor, department, or college may have specific requirements or guidelines.
  • You should not use University resources, including space and equipment, for consulting work beyond minimal, incidental usage that does not interfere with the availability of those resources for CMU work.
  • A company that you are consulting for may provide sponsored funding or an unrestricted gift to your lab or your department at Carnegie Mellon, with your department's approval.
  • If such a sponsored project is a collaborative effort between CMU and the company (e.g., an SBIR) you may only provide effort for one side of the project or the other. If you are the CMU PI, for example, you may not also provide effort or be paid for the company’s scope of work on that project.
  • A written disclosure in the proposal is strongly recommended. Even if the company is small enough that the person making funding decisions is also aware of your consulting role, providing a written disclosure protects you, your research, and the University.
  • For any publications or presentations resulting from this work, you should review the conflict of interest disclosure requirements carefully and comply with them. If you’re not sure whether disclosure is required, err on the side of transparency.
  • You should disclose your consulting relationship with the company to any research team members working on such a sponsored project.
  • ORIC does not write general Conflict of Interest Management Plans covering, e.g., all of your potential future research sponsored by an organization you are also consulting for. Any such sponsored project will be reviewed on a case by case basis as it is awarded.
  • If you are only consulting and do not hold equity in an organization sponsoring your CMU research, you likely will not need a written Conflict of Interest Management Plan. However, you should still consult with ORIC and a plan may be needed depending on the details of your project.
  • If you are consulting and also hold equity, a written Management Plan may be needed depending on the details of your project.
  • Management Plans are generally prepared by ORIC but will require approval from your department, and must be approved before spending can begin.
  • Students/Advisees: If you are consulting for a company, opportunities may arise for undergraduate or graduate students in your research team to also work with the company as consultants or interns. Special care must be taken in these cases to ensure that students are not pressured to take this opportunity instead of others they would prefer, and that their intellectual property is protected. Some departments may also have special requirements for students involved in outside work. Consult your department head if this situation arises.
  • Consulting Agreements: ORIC cannot advise you on the content of your private consulting agreements, and you are not generally required to provide a copy of your agreement unless your specific conflict management plan requires it. That said, if you choose to provide the agreement, it may be helpful in expediting your conflict of interest review. 
  • Licensing: Licensing questions are generally handled by the Center for Technology Transfer  and Enterprise Creation, but if you have a conflict of interest due to your consulting, ORIC may advise. Licensing questions are typically project-specific but as a general best practice, CMU will treat a company you are consulting for exactly like any other company requesting a license. CMU cannot provide any special terms or considerations that would not be available to another company.