The JPL Ethics Office

Outside Activities FAQs

1. Can an employee work for a company that does, or wants to do, business with the Laboratory?
  Yes, as long as:
  • The outside work does not involve technology development which is similar to government-funded technology development at JPL.
  • The work the outside company is doing for JPL does not involve, in any way, either the employee or the employee's organization.
  • The employee does not contribute to the outside company's efforts in support of any JPL contract.
  • The employee does not contribute to any effort by either the Laboratory or the outside organization for work contemplated as a future contract between the Laboratory and the outside organization.
  • The employee avoids involvement in any procurement actions between JPL and the outside organization on the part of either organization.
  • The employee does not disclose methods, techniques, or ideas, generated at the Laboratory, to the outside organization until all obligations for reporting them to the sponsor have been discharged and Laboratory approval has been obtained.
2. I'm thinking about starting my own business using Caltech intellectual property. Do I tell my boss?
  Yes, your manager needs to know as soon as you decide to pursue a license to commercialize Caltech intellectual property, as evidenced by contacting the JPL Technology Commercialization Office, Caltech Technology Transfer and Caltech Intellectual Property Control. The JPL Ethics Office must also be notified. The Ethics Office will meet with you and your management to plan and implement controls to preclude any actual or perceived conflict of interest problems. Caltech will not begin negotiations for a license to you until they have confirmed that the Ethics office has looked at the conflict of interest issues.
3. How do I go about getting a license?
  Refer to the New Venture documents in the JPL Rules! System.
4. Can I remain a JPL employee after I have received a license to commercialize Caltech intellectual property?
  That depends on several things. If the technology continues in the development phase and your current assignment, or any assignments you expect to receive within a reasonable period of time, have you involved in any way, either as a worker or manager, with the development process, you must terminate your employment.
5. Is there an alternative to termination?
  Yes. You may request a leave of absence for a reasonable period to enable your business to get off the ground.
6. If I leave JPL and start my own company commercializing licensed Caltech intellectual property, can I hire active JPL employees to work for my company as consultants or part-time employees?
  In the above situation, the Ethics Office will reject an application for outside employment if the applicant is involved with continued self-directed development of the same technology and either of the following conditions exist:
  • You want the JPL employee to duplicate what he/she is doing for JPL, or
  • The applicant has a financial interest in or expects to acquire a financial interest in, your company.

Note:  Regardless of the conditions stated above, an application will be denied if you want JPL employees to work on a JPL contract.
7. Can I, as a JPL employee, consult for a company which has a license to commercialize Caltech technology?
  Yes, subject to the conditions described in Answer 8 above.
8. What if I am currently involved in further self-directed development of that technology?
  If any of the conditions described in Answer 8 above apply, your application would be denied.
9. I am deeply involved in the ongoing development of a technology which has been licensed by Company A. Company A has asked me to help them train a group of engineers to support the technology they have licensed. Can I do this?
10. Can I help them prepare for the improvement in the technology I am currently working on at JPL?
  Absolutely not.
11. As a consultant, I may occasionally meet with suppliers who also support my JPL project. How do I handle this?
  This fact must be disclosed to your manager and to the Ethics Office. Steps must be taken to avoid even a perception of a conflict of interest.
12. Is it okay for me to support, through a technology affiliates contract, a company for which I also consult?
  Yes, as long as your line/project management, the Technology Affiliates Office, and the Ethics Office have been notified and concur. Your manager must also assume the responsibility to oversee any resource allocation decisions you make.
13. What if I have a management position or financial interest in the outside company?
  If you are in a position to allocate either people or resources to the Technology Affiliates contract associated with this outside company, you will not be permitted to be involved in their Technology Affiliates activities.
14. What do you mean by "passive ownership interest?"
  Passive ownership means that you have absolutely nothing to do with the company. You do not have a management position. You do not sit on the Board of Directors or a Scientific Advisory Board. You do not market, consult, or meet with management or employees for any reason.
15. What do you mean by "self-direction of development activities?"
  Self-direction means that the employee can determine what paths his or her research will follow without direction or close oversight by management.
16. Why do you worry about that?
  We are trying to avoid the appearance of a researcher using government-sponsored time and resources to benefit commercial interests instead of JPL's or the sponsor's interests.
17. If I have no financial interest in an outside company and I cannot consult with that company on ongoing technology development which duplicates what I am doing at JPL, what can I do?
  You can consult with that company by doing things such as developing applications for licensed technology, developing marketing plans, and developing production plans.
18. What if I don't have an ownership interest now but have been promised stock options?
  For the purposes of this policy, such options will be considered to be an ownership interest.
19. What exactly do you mean by "Technology Development?"
  For the purpose of this policy, technology development is defined as any activities involved in the creation of something new or the improvement of something which has already been developed. It is the formulation of a technology concept or application, transforming the concept into hardware or software, and taking it to the point where you have proven that it works in a controlled, relevant environment. This includes: (i) formulation; (ii) proof-of-concept validation; (iii) module, component, and breadboard validation; (iv) end-to-end prototype demonstration; and (v) all improvements included to make the hardware or software functional or increase functionality. For example, creating a way of doing something we were not able to do is technology development. Increasing the usefulness of an item by improving its sensitivity or range of motion is also technology development, as is using government funds to find new uses for existing technology. Modifying the shape, size, or arrangement without increasing the usefulness is not technology development.