Intellectual Property

The lengthy development time for many healthcare products may mean that Intellectual property strategies applied to other sectors may not be appropriate. Often decisions about protection must be taken prior to publication and if these decisions are inappropriate they can seriously disadvantage the technology going forwards.

Protecting the intellectual assets associated with your technology is one of the most important things you can do to ensure that the development of your technology can be supported in the future. If your ideas aren’t protected then your ability to exploit them will be limited or lost. In the healthcare sector, inappropriately protected assets can frequently be almost as bad as unprotected ones. Protection is expensive and enforcement is even more expensive, so it’s important to get these decisions right.

Many researchers will already have a degree of familiarity with handling intellectual property and particularly patents. However, the healthcare sector introduces a number of challenges that make appropriate management of intellectual property more challenging. Due to the rigorous processes required to validate the safety and efficacy of new healthcare technologies (see regulation), there are certain product types where the route from invention to market can routinely exceed 10+ years. Given the time-limited nature of most patents, timing in these cases can be critical; if technologies are patented too early there is a risk that the patents will expire before a product is commercially sustainable. While an appropriately timed patent-led approach may be appropriate for many traditional medical devices, in some areas such as manufacturing technologies alternative protection options such as trade secrets can be pursued; open access approaches are also becoming increasingly common for software.

Your university’s technology transfer office (or equivalent) should be your first point of call for all queries about intellectual property as this is where the expertise (and resources) to protect and exploit intellectual property usually reside. That said it is wise to be conscious of the differences relevant to the healthcare sector, to ensure that the most appropriate decisions are made for your technology. Industrial collaborators may bring useful experience in this regard, though again we recommend developing your own understanding of best practice in this area to ensure that the right choices are made for all parties.

There is a particular tension between publishing the results of scientific work and protecting the intellectual assets generated from the project. While EPSRC expects that the outputs of publically funded research will be made available, a reasonable delay while appropriate protection arrangements are made is both normal and acceptable. A high quality proposal will suggest a strategy for identifying the intellectual assets that may arise from a project and the process that will be used to ensure that these are appropriately protected.

Questions to Consider

  • How long do technologies like yours typically take to get to market?
  • What intellectual assets might your project produce if successful?
  • What is the most appropriate method for protecting each of the intellectual assets that might arise from the project?
  • How will the intellectual assets be utilised in your exploitation strategy?
  • Do you know how to access intellectual property support within your institution?

Resources to Request

Resources to support the protection and exploitation of Intellectual Assets are available through your institution and as such EPSRC will not provide specific resources to support this.

Further information

  1. EPSRC Guidance on Intellectual Property: Full guidance on Intellectual Property issues.
  2. The Intellectual Property Office: An introduction and overview of intellectual property from the UK administrative body for IP.
  3. The Intellectual Property Office STEM Training Course: Online training course tailored to those working in sciences and engineering.
  4. The World Intellectual Property Organization: The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is the global forum for intellectual property services, policy, information and cooperation.


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