An interview with Jörg Scherer, CEO of Eurice and Head of Training & Communiation Activities of the European IPR Helpdesk, on how research impact relates to effective communication, dissemination and exploitation action - and how IP and innovation management comes into play.

 

How does research impact relate to communication, dissemination and exploitation activities within Horizon 2020 projects? What are common mistakes when drafting plans for outreach activities?

Strategic outreach activities help explain the wider societal relevance of science, build support for future research and innovation funding, ensure uptake of results within the scientific community, and open up potential business opportunities for novel products or services. In sum, it helps increase the impact of research and innovation in multiple ways.

Therefore, participants in Horizon 2020 projects are required to promote their activities and results. In this context the terms ‘Communication’, ‘Dissemination’ and ‘Exploitation’ are widely used to refer to a number of actions, strategies, approaches and notions in general on how research teams in a Horizon 2020 project can fulfil this commitment.

Many times when writing a proposal, project teams consider ‘Communication’, ‘Dissemination’ and ‘Exploitation’ abstract measures that are only marginally linked to their actual (scientific) work. Or they are under the impression that scientific publications alone are sufficient to communicate their work to an audience that matters. Any activities concerning potential exploitation or communication to the broader public are considered only as “pro forma” – they have to be mentioned in the proposal, but have no added value. Consequently the activities planned in these areas often result in non-strategic, ad hoc efforts lacking clearly defined objectives and targets.

Obviously, the extent to which projects define and balance their approach towards communication, dissemination and exploitation activities must vary and a one-fits-all solution is neither reasonable nor desirable.

When do communication, dissemination and exploitation activities become relevant?

The strategic planning of communication actions together with appropriate dissemination and exploitation measures begins during the proposal stage of a project. Once it is running, the communication actions will accompany the R&I work of the project throughout its duration, while activities related to the dissemination and exploitation of results often continue even after it has come to a close. Nevertheless, it is advisable to already consider exploitation aspects during the proposal stage.

Relevant project outputs result throughout the course of project – not only towards the end – therefore it is essential to closely capture, monitor and manage results (including the IP that goes along with it) over the entire lifetime of the project and adjust communication activities, as well as dissemination and exploitation plans accordingly. Additionally, yet unknown results which might develop during the course of the project should be closely monitored and captured at various stages during the project to foster exploitation and further application in various fields.

Even though dissemination and exploitation of results are relevant during the project, these activities usually gain more momentum towards the end of the project when the bulk of expected outcomes typically emerge. Consequently, there has to be a viable plan in place to address what happens after the project has come to a close – even more so, since project partners are contractually obligated to use their best efforts to exploit the results 4 years after project completion. Dissemination and exploitation measures thus remain relevant beyond the project’s end: results should continue to be publicised, ideally creating an increasing awareness and interest amongst potential users, which in turn fuels further exploitation of results.“

IP management is closely linked to all three concepts and their interplay. Why is it important to consider in H2020?

Paving the route to successful exploitation, intellectual property (IP) takes an essential role in the entire life cycle of R&D projects funded through Horizon 2020, the framework programme of the European Union (EU) for research and innovation for the period 2014-2020. With Horizon 2020, the EU aims at strengthening the European scientific and technological base and fostering benefits for society as well as better exploitation of the economic and industrial potential of policies of innovation, research and technological development. In fact, it is essential that the public resources and efforts used in research are converted into socio-economic benefits to the EU. For this reason Horizon 2020 establishes commitments from the participants in terms of exploitation of the projects’ results, including their protection through IP. Proper IP management should therefore be carefully considered from the very beginning of a project and is subject to evaluation criteria in the selection of proposals to be retained for EC funding.

Major issues to be considered in this context are:

  • How will results be protected? How will Joint Ownership be treated?
  • How will the exchange of existing knowledge and know-how (i.e. “background”) and results among partners and external stakeholders be managed? What are the best conditions to grant access rights?
  • What are the best and most viable routes for exploitation of Horizon 2020 results?“

What is the value of IP analysis (i.e. state-of-the-art analysis, patent search, etc.)?

The IP analysis of the project background and upcoming results is a key step towards safeguarding scientific and economic impact of a Horizon 2020 projects.Participants in Horizon 2020 projects are asked to demonstrate the innovation potential and capacity of their project, and to show how their activities and expected results will go beyond the “State of the Art”.

The detailed analysis of already existing or future IP(R) held inside and outside the project consortium is the basis for any professional exploitation strategy: Who might be interested in the IPR (i.e. patents) held by the consortium? Are there other Intellectual Property Rights  closely connected to the ones held by the consortium? Who would be interested in licensing project results?

Consortium partner must seek to ensure that their exploitation strategies do not infringe on IP (patent) rights of others. Patent litigation can be an expensive, uncertain and risky affair and, as the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Whenever a project partner is planning to develop and launch a new product, a major risk, particularly in technology sectors where there is extensive patenting, is that commercialization may be blocked by a competitor who holds a patent for a technology incorporated within that product. This is why Horizon 2020 projects offers the opportunity, at an early stage of technolgy development, to analyse the “freedom to operate,” i.e. to ensure that the commercial production, marketing and use of their new product, process or service does not infringe the IP rights of others.

How can applicants develop strategies and plans to capture, manage and exploit results of their projects?

Make sure that you design and implement adequate internal structures safeguarding effective knowledge, IP and innovation management helping create, capture and manage research results. From the very beginning of project planning, raise awareness among all partners of good research practice and the importance of IP management (incl. confidentiality, ownership, access rights, responsibilities).Establish procedures to recognize, capture and characterize project outputs (e.g. notification of partners of any publication or disclosure).

Assess, balance and moderate the possibly varying exploitation interests of project partners (e.g. through exploitation or innovation questionnaires) and come up with a jointly agreed strategy that responds to the overall reason for the project: to jointly address specific challenges and expected impacts – and not partners individual interests.

Systematically plan, prepare and implement appropriate activities to identify, assess and prioritize key exploitable results (e.g. exploitation workshops). Establish proper arrangements to ensure freedom-to-operate with project results; i.e. pre-publications reviews, checking potential third party infringements.“

What would be your most important piece of advice to Horizon 2020 applicants?

In Horizon 2020 research and Innovation Actions impact forms a third of the total evaluation score along with excellence and quality and efficiency of the implementation. Even scientifically brilliant proposals will fail if the impact section is not excellent. Therefore, assess objectively whether your consortium can deliver the expected impact – don’t try if you can’t.

If you think that your proposal can address the expected impact listed in the call topic description, make sure that you identify and plan all necessary activities to achieve the expected impact through effective communication, dissemination and exploitation measures (including proper IP management). It has to be clear that project teams aiming for a successful Horizon 2020 project need to reflect and address communication, dissemination and exploitation through an integrated approach that strategically targets these measures, and which is closely tied to the project’s work plan.