Research Design Service: East Midlands
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Intellectual Property: What is it and why does it matter?

  Created on Tuesday, 18 Jul 2017. Posted in Design Tips | Industry

What is intellectual property?
Intellectual Property (IP) is used to define the products of human imagination, creativity and inventiveness. It includes literary and artistic works, inventions, symbols, names, images and designs.
In healthcare IP may come from research or clinical practice.  It includes: medical devices; computer software; training materials; service delivery or pathways; project or patient management; tools, scales or instruments; diagnostics; pharmaceuticals; and biotechnology.

How can you protect your idea?
Identifying where Intellectual Property exists is the first step, as unless it is identified, it cannot be captured, protected and exploited. It’s most important keep your ideas confidential from the very beginning. It is very easy to lose IP early on before it has been protected, by publishing research papers, presentations at conferences or meetings and unguarded conversations. Most universities or NHS trusts will have a business or enterprise unit who will help you with protecting and developing your idea. Your research office should be able to advise you who to contact.

What about the confidentiality of your idea when you’re applying for funding?

  • Discussion with RDS staff: Any discussion between RDS staff and researchers will be considered as confidential by the RDS and not related to a third party without your consent.
  • Funding schemes: Funding scheme managers also understand the issues of confidentiality and welcome contact from the researcher at an early stage when completing the application form to discuss any issues.
    You should be clear about the conditions of the funding scheme you are applying to. Funders will want you to publish the results of the research they funded, whereas you may want to keep the results confidential. Commissioned calls may present a particular problem. Again discussion with the funding scheme prior to application may clarify this.

Who owns the IP?
Legislation in the United Kingdom generally provides that Intellectual Property created by you as an employee in the course of your employment is owned by your employer.
If a project has been funded by the NIHR who owns the Intellectual Property Rights then?
“The Department of Health still expects that where possible and appropriate, the Contractor owns IP arising from research. However, this is not always the case in research with collaborators”. (NIHR FAQs on intellectual property

Does your employer have an IP policy?
The NHS trust or university you work for should have an IP policy which sets out the principles of the organization with regard to Intellectual Property. This will cover issues about the ownership, protection and use of materials and inventions created by employees.

How can you protect your IP?
Methods of protecting IP will depend on what it is. They include:

  • Patents: Patents protect inventions, i.e. the technical aspects of products or processes.
  • Registered rights must be applied for to the Patent Office: It gives a monopoly right for up to 20 years (from when the patent is granted not when an invention comes to market). To be patentable a product must be novel or include an innovative step. Obtaining a patent is a costly and slow process. A Patent Agent will be needed to assist you. NB methods of treatment and computer software are not patentable
  • Registered Trademarks: Registered trademarks protect brand names logos etc. You may see one of these two symbols ™ or ®. You must apply for Registered Rights. Registration requirements are distinctiveness, not descriptive, and having no conflict with other marks.
  • Registered Designs: Registered Designs protect the appearance of a product e.g. shape or surface designs, Registered design rights must be applied for. Unregistered design right protection is also possible. Registration requirements are novelty and individual character.
  • Copyright: © Copyright protects artistic and literary works, and includes computer software and instruction manuals. It is automatic, unregistered and no application required. The work must be original.
  • Know-how: Know-how is knowledge which may not fall under more rigorous forms of protection, but which has commercial value. This confidential information may also be referred to as a ‘trade secret’. Commonly know-how is information which identifies how an industrial process or a key technical step can be implemented.

Developing your idea

  • Licences: When you are developing your idea you may want to use existing technology to help with that development. If this is the case you will need permission from the IP owner and for them agree the terms under which you can use it. This may be in the form of a licence.
  • Non-Disclosure Agreements: Collaborations with commercial or other partners may be required during the development process. A non-disclosure or confidentiality agreement should be signed between the IP holder and the third party. This should also be discussed with Funders so that they can help with the process if necessary and understand what is going on. Discussions will be confidential.

For further information