How to commercialise your research
By Nathalie Dhomen
University of Manchester Innovation Factory Ltd is the University’s agent for commercialisation and drives technology transfer for the University. Their mission is to use the Intellectual Property (IP) developed at The University of Manchester to create positive social, economic and environmental impact.
The Innovation Factory works with University IP creators to identify research that has the potential to create value. It then translates these into a form where they can be used to benefit society as a whole.
Access to such innovations may be via technology licensing or the establishment of spin-out companies.
What is Intellectual Property?
Intellectual property (IP) is something that you create using your mind (e.g., a story, an invention, an artistic work or symbol). IP Rights (IPRs) are legal rights which enable the owners of IP to control and benefit from the use of their IP, usually for a prescribed period of time. The type of IPR depends on the form of IP. Whilst some IPRs arise automatically upon creation of a work (e.g., copyright), others are only granted following successful registration (e.g., a patent).
During a programme of study, employment and/or appointment at the University, it is likely that students and employees will create, make and/or develop IP.
As a general rule, a creator usually owns IP in their work, unless:
- The IP was made during the course of their employment
- There is an agreement or a policy to the contrary
Research Funders or Sponsors (e.g., charities such as Cancer Research UK, or other companies) may have rights to the IP generated from their funding. Where Cancer Research UK (CRUK) is a majority funder of the research, Cancer Research Horizons, the translation engine for CRUK, will work with The University of Manchester Innovation Factory to manage protection and commercialisation of the IP.
Like any form of property, IP may have commercial value and can be traded. The IP owner can authorise (i.e., license) another party to use their IP for a particular purpose, sell or otherwise transfer (i.e., assign) IP to another party.
What are the different types of IPRs?
The main Intellectual Property Rights are:
- Design Rights
- Database Rights
Each different type of IPR requires the meeting of certain conditions and/or actions for it to be valid and deliver protection.
When should IPRs be applied for?
To protect IPRs with a patent, the patent should be filed before the information pertaining to that IP is disclosed in the public domain (i.e., through discussions, presentations, posters, publication etc).
It is therefore important for researchers to understand about any IP that may be developing within their research and innovations. If this process is streamlined with the Innovation Factory and/or Cancer Research Horizons, it will then inform the timing of IP protection so as not to impede the academic process of sharing and disseminating important research.
Both the Innovation Factory and Cancer Research Horizons aim to rapidly turn around decisions on whether to protect and commercialise research innovations that are disclosed to them by researchers, and patent filing can be done in a matter of weeks if the decision to patent is taken.
Once IPRs are protected, researchers are free to disseminate their work and The University of Manchester Innovation Factory or Cancer Research Horizons can undertake the process of commercialising the IP.
What is the process of spinning out?
The two most typical routes to commercialising research innovation are licensing and spin-out creation. Different innovations may lend themselves to a given route.
The licensing route of commercialisation is where the IP is licensed to a commercial entity who will then go onto progress and market it. For example, a novel therapeutic agent may be licensed to a pharmaceutical company that can manufacture it at large scale and bring it to the market. This may be suitable for innovations that:
- Represent an improvement over current practice
- Have a single application
- Fit well with the portfolio of a given company
Income from licensing takes the form of a license fee and royalties over licensee’s revenues. The time it takes to identify, negotiate with and finalise a deal with a licensor can vary, but much of this is performed by the Innovation Factory or Cancer Research Horizons, with the researcher taking on a largely scientific advisory role.
When the innovation represents something novel beyond an improvement on what is already on the market, or a platform technology that may have multiple applications and no obvious single outlet, a spin-out approach may be more appropriate. In this case, a company is set up to progress and market the IP, with support from the Innovation Factory or Cancer Research Horizons. Income from this approach is based on share sales, floatation and exit, in the same way as would be expected from any new start-up. This route requires more of a researcher’s input, as they will work with a team to help build a business based on their innovation – however many researchers have a naturally entrepreneurial spirit and may thrive on the satisfaction of seeing their innovations creating both social and financial impact.
Who to approach if you would like to commercialise your research
Nathalie’s role at the Manchester Cancer Research Centre is to help identify, protect and commercialise the valuable IP that is being generated by our research community. Nathalie can help support researchers from a project’s earliest conception, for example:
- When a grant application asks an applicant to describe the translational potential of a proposed project
- To protect IP rights once encouraging data has been generated by research
- To support researchers on the road to licensing or spinning out
The Manchester Cancer Research Centre is a partnership between The University of Manchester, Cancer Research UK and The Christie NHS Foundation trust. This partnership also reaches out to key associate institutes, other trusts (e.g., Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust and Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust) and organisations (e.g., Greater Manchester Cancer, Manchester Academic Health Sciences Centre and Health Innovation Manchester).
Work by Manchester-based researchers crosscuts all the partner organisations, creating an enabling environment to drive innovation and develop the technologies that will support and improve cancer patients’ lives and those of their families. Nathalie’s role is to help bring these technologies from the bench into the clinic.