Research Design Service: East Midlands
National Institute for Health Research

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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

Animation expalins HRA Approval

  Created on Tuesday, 20 Jun 2017. Posted in News Items | Design Tips

HRA Approval is the new process for the NHS in England that brings together the assessment of governance and legal compliance, undertaken by dedicated HRA staff, with the independent REC opinion provided through the UK Health Departments’ Research Ethics Service.  It replaces the need for local checks of legal compliance and related matters by each participating organisation in England.

Using Information in your Research Proposal

  Created on Wednesday, 12 Apr 2017. Posted in Design Tips

Information is critical throughout your research

Your research idea

  • Has anyone done it before? Perform a scoping search of PubMed. Check for systematic reviews.
  • Is anyone working on it now? Check ongoing/current databases such as the UK Clinical Trials Gateway, Europe PubMed Central Grant Finder Tool, Clinical
  • Establish whether the topic has been flagged as important to the NHS and relevant to clinical practice/national policy. Look for relevant guidance and policy or priority-setting documents. Look at NICE guidance, clinical guidelines, and the James Lind Alliance

Writing the background
Set your study in a practical and/or theoretical context, making it clear how much is known already and what difference your research will make. Justify your research proposal using evidence from the literature, particularly any systematic reviews or recent guidelines (NICE). Support your case with:

  • Recent data describing the size of the problem, the cost to the NHS and implications for patients
  • Recent articles/primary research – show awareness of current ‘players’ in the field
  • Systematic reviews/meta analyses whenever possible

Methods section
Information can also be useful in the methods section to:

  • Explore how other researchers have tackled similar questions
  • Demonstrate the feasibility of your proposed research design

Other uses of information
Your searches can also help you to:

  • Identify potential collaborators/specialist reviewers
  • Identify funding for your research by noting how other similar studies were supported

Remember to cite all information sources, including any supporting statistics.

Getting help
Make use of:

  • Health librarians - contact your local NHS trust or university librarians
  • Online tutorials – available for searching techniques and about individual databases
  • The RDS has Information Specialists who can help you with your searches. They can also give advice on undertaking systematic reviews, search techniques, sources of information and referencing (Mary Edmunds Otter,; and Christine Keen,
  • The RDS has developed a website 'Finding Information for Research Proposals' that should provide links to virtually all the information sources you will need!      

Elevator Pitch

  Created on Tuesday, 07 Feb 2017. Posted in Design Tips

Elevator pitches are becoming increasingly popular as a way to promote and sell your research idea. The pitches tell a story. Our brains love stories as they are easier to remember, they pull people in and show them what benefits your research idea can offer. Elevator pitches can also provide a test for the integrity of your idea. If you struggle to formulate your idea in a concise simple way then maybe you need to work on it some more. You are the expert on your research idea and you need to convey the importance and the benefits that will arise from the research to extremely busy funding panel members who may only spend a short time reading your proposal. Apart from NIHR’s Invention for Innovation (i4i) programme no other funder currently demands an elevator type presentation, but you can still use the elevator pitch technique to formulate the most important elements that need to go into your plain English summary.

Traditionally an elevator pitch contains a complicated, nuanced idea, pitched into a 60 second simple, memorable and convincing speech.

Goal: The goal of the elevator pitch is to generate interest and create a longer conversation about your idea. For funding applicants it is to keep the funding panel interested in your research and moving it up the ranking into the fundable projects zone.


  • It should be delivered in the manner you normally talk, so it doesn’t appear forced, but it also needs to be practised. 60 seconds may be a short time for the speaker but can seem like a long time to the listener!
  • It’s always good to pose questions in the pitch as it invites to both a longer conversation and also engages the listener to think about your idea.
  • Pause – give the listener a chance to interject

Key ingredients:

  • Include only the most important things that will make the listener want to hear more (including all the information about an idea will confuse and likely annoy the listener)
  • Show why you are worth investing by:
    • Identifying the need – what problem exits for whom. In 2 sentences highlight the problem and focus on the benefits and results your idea will bring to solve it.
    • Identify your USP (unique selling point) use a simple, short and focused statement to talk about 1 or at the most 2 key features of the idea that will impact on the problem.
  • Try using one of the following formats for your pitch:
    • Problem / Why it matters / Potential solutions / Benefits of fixing it (Nature 494, 137-138 (2013))
    • Context / Importance / Problem / What happens next

Audience: Know your audience and develop your pitch to suit. Often funding panels or fellow researchers will have some basic knowledge but they won’t be experts in your field. The public on the other hand will need a much simpler explanation.

  • Grandmother speech (or 14 year old child speech): Put it in words that they will understand, you want to engage them not baffle them! This type of speech is used with the media. If your research is funded, the plain English summary will be published on a variety of websites, without the rest of this application form.
  • Job interview speech: This audience will have a basic understanding of your field but won’t be experts. You need to be engaging, relevant and show the impact to the wider world to catch their attention. Most funding panel members are likely to be in this category, they will be reading the plain English summary first to get the gist of your idea. You want them to be so interested after reading this that they spend time reading the rest of the application!
  • Fellow researcher speech: This is the audience that you will meet at conferences, experts in your field but not in your specific area. You need to describe quickly what you do over coffee to gain their interest. This type of elevator speech may come in useful when you are looking to find other collaborators to enhance your team.

Tips for success:

  • Keep it short (less is more) – concise
  • avoid jargon and abbreviations
  • be enthusiastic, but don’t over promise - compelling
  • relate to the bigger picture, something that your audience can appreciate or relate to
  • avoid information overload
  • use analogies and/or strong images
  • relate your research to something the listener knows and/or cares about
  • practice your speech at any opportunity

Here are two YouTube examples of research pitches that won prizes and one about the power of stories: