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Top Tips for Climbing the Intellectual Property Ladder

Top Tips for Climbing the Intellectual Property Ladder

01 November 2018

Freya Tyrer, Researcher in Epidemiology and Mary Edmunds Otter, Information Specialist - RDS East Midlands

When preparing a grant application, we are all guilty of focusing on the parts that we like. These might include the novel research idea, innovative public involvement strategy, or potential to save lives. However, it is rare to see intellectual property in the ‘fun things to do’ list. More often, it collects dust at the bottom of our to-do pile alongside the dreaded costings.

Yet intellectual property does not need to be that complicated. Below, we outline a few pointers for a smooth stumble-free transition up the intellectual property ladder.

1. Know your intellectual property
Broadly speaking, intellectual property (IP) is anything created by the human mind. This might be a journal article, device, software program, or questionnaire. If IP is generated during your research project this is called foreground or project-generated IP. If you use IP that has already been created, this is called background IP. Examples of background IP include other people’s questionnaires or devices. Consider whether you have permission to use them.

2. Consider how your intellectual property will be protected
Fortunately, we don’t need to worry about copyrighting our own publications as the publishers do the hard work for us. However, we nearly always produce other types of IP when we do research. It is important to consider whether this IP should be protected. There are several ways that we can protect our IP and these are outlined below:

Copyright is a common way of protecting IP. Questionnaires, software programs, information leaflets and websites can all be copyrighted. This does not necessarily stop others from copying them but it means that they cannot reproduce the original and claim that the work is theirs.

Trademarks can be applied to any logos, figures or branding that you have created for the project and you do not wish to be copied.

New inventions can be patented to stop other people from making or selling them. We see this most commonly for new devices, such as the patenting of a new coronary stent or a scanning device. However, outside the UK, other inventions can also be patented.

Trade secret/confidential information
A lesser seen way of protecting IP is by treating it as a trade secret. This deserves a mention because it can apply to software source code, which may be relevant to those of us with an interest in machine learning or complex computational techniques.

3. Contact your intellectual property representative
Most organisations have someone who specialises in IP and can provide advice or help with the relevant sections of your grant. They may not be working to your deadlines however, so do contact them early. The Intellectual Property Office also has a website which is very helpful and NIHR have a FAQs document in intellectual property.

Finally, a word of caution for those who think they can pocket their IP and disappear into the sunset. IP is normally owned by the organisation and not the person who created it. So don’t book that holiday just yet….

Call your local RDS and we'll help you navigate IP!


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