Proposal writing advice: Intellectual property management
Many funders will ask you to include a plan or strategy to manage intellectual property (IP) or knowledge assets when you submit your proposal. This can include information about protecting results, ownership and access, confidentiality measures and exploitation routes. Projects usually have many outputs, and several of these may need to be protected and managed to achieve the expected or desired impact. Be careful though - it is not enough to start thinking about strategies for IP management and exploitation at the end of your project; you should understand and address these processes from an early stage of your work.
SLU Holding are innovation and IP experts and can help you, as an SLU researcher, to understand the potential to develop your research results into new processes, services or products in green industries. They can help you to ensure your research reaches a relevant market and makes a difference in society. You can contact SLU Holding to find out more about the services they offer and how they can help you.
IP management strategy
Your IP management strategy and the level of detail should be appropriate for the size of your project and the specific requirements from the funder. We advise that you give due visibility in your work plan to IP management and the exploitation of results, for example, with a distinct task(s), and if necessary, you could include a specific work package. You could consider a committee for exploitation and IP, or an IP/Innovation Manager and even a consulting body of external experts from industry.
In a collaborative project, it is best practice (sometimes mandatory) for all partners to sign a Consortium Agreement (CA). The CA outlines the framework for successful project implementation and should, in principle, be negotiated and signed before signing the Grant Agreement and starting the project.
Amongst other things, the CA will define and regulate ownership and protection of results, access to background knowledge/IP, and confidentiality. When writing your proposal, we advise referencing your intention to use a CA for this purpose, and if possible, which template you will employ (e.g. the DESCA Model).
If you are the coordinator of a project that requires a CA, and are awarded funding, you must communicate with the Legal Affairs Unit. For SLU-coordinated projects, the CA is a legal contract created by and signed on behalf of SLU - therefore, the legal unit must review its content.
The protection of results
Describe how you will organise the protection of results that are capable of, or reasonably expected to be capable of, commercial or industrial exploitation. In this context, you may outline how you will identify results (perhaps by allocating some staff member to be an IP Manager or having a fixed agenda point at project progress meetings), report, and protect them from early disclosure. If possible, you should indicate the type of IP that the project will produce and how the partners intend to protect IP rights (IPR) (perhaps by using internal and/or external IP specialists, such as SLU Holding). Refer to the CA that you will establish.
The most common types of protection are:
- Copyright - protects intellectual, artistic or creative work. Automatically granted once an idea is expressed by the creator and applies internationally, but there are methods of formal registration for the avoidance of disputes.
- Patent - protects new inventions. Must be applied for through patent offices in individual countries or regions and will only be granted where specific criteria are met - e.g. originality, practical use, and inventiveness.
- Trademark - protects products and services. These can be regional or international and contribute to brand recognition.
Often, the costs for protecting the results of a research project (e.g. a patent application) are considered eligible costs by funders. However, you should always check the funding rules when preparing your budget.
Organisation and management of background and results
Participating in a project has many advantages for all types of organisations. However, to avoid hesitation over providing access to “trade secrets” or exploitable research, participants must have a mutual understanding of how their background and foreground will be protected.
Describe how you will organise ownership and access rights between the partners, including any financial conditions. Background knowledge and IP/IPR must be identified and agreed on by participants, which can be done through the CA or a separate agreement (in the form of positive or negative lists), ideally to be concluded before the project begins.
Joint ownership of results
You may mention that in the case of jointly owned results, there is the intention to reach an agreement for the effective management of such results with details, for example, on shares, exploitation and licensing to third parties.
Explain how you will manage confidentiality issues. For partners, this will most likely be handled informally during the proposal phase (although occasionally confidentiality agreements are used) and then through the CA for the project's duration. For third parties involved in the project, but who do not sign the CA, you could ask them to sign a non-disclosure agreement instead (which can be one-way or two-way).
For advice on confidentiality agreements, non-disclosure agreements etc., please contact the Legal Affairs Unit.
The exploitation of results
You have several routes for exploitation. The most appropriate one will depend on the type of results, the technology readiness level, and each partner’s circumstances in terms of financial conditions and business plans. Some potential routes for exploitation include:
- initiating new projects
- contributing to standards
- education and training
- evidence-based decision-making (recommendations, conclusions, policy briefs)
- new start-up businesses
- new products
As well as identifying your route(s) to exploitation, you can also think about:
- Who are your target users/audience/customers?
- Have you done/will you do market analysis to understand their needs and tailor your exploitation plan?
- Who is responsible for exploiting the result - which partner(s)? What expertise do they have in this area?
When will the exploitation happen - during or after the project? Do you need to seek extra funding for this?
More information and help
- European IP Helpdesk
A European Commission initiative, offering a range of information including an online library of factsheets, case studies and IPR guides; a helpline to ask questions on IP issues; and free webinars on topics including IP, innovation, impact and consortium agreements.
- DESCA Model Consortium Agreement
Sections 8, 9 and 10 of DESCA contain information on ownership of results, access to background, and non-disclosure of confidential information.
- Innovation Strategy in R&D Projects
A free, practical step-by-step guide prepared by the EU-funded Health2Market project. The guide explains why and when an innovation strategy (including IP protection and commercialisation routes) is required in R&D projects and how it should be developed and implemented. Real-life examples are used throughout, related to the health sciences, but the methodologies and strategies are universal.
- SLU Holding
Staff at SLU Holding can help you develop your research into an innovation that makes a difference in society. If you are thinking about issues such as patenting, publishing, market potential and funding, then as a researcher, you should get in touch with them.
- Legal Affairs Unit
Staff at SLU’s Legal Affairs Unit will help you prepare a Consortium Agreement when you are coordinating a project. They will also review a Consortium Agreement, Grant Agreement or similar contract that you are asked to sign on behalf of SLU. You should contact them in plenty of time before a signing deadline, and the best way to do that is by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
- SLU Grants Office
As always, you can reach out to the Grants Office to ask questions at any time. Contact us at email@example.com.