On the route to successful exploitation of research outcomes, Intellectual Property (IP) management takes an essential role in the entire life cycle of R&D projects funded under Horizon 2020, the current framework programme of the European Union (EU) for research and innovation running from 2014-2020.
by Jörg Scherer
With Horizon 2020, the EU aims at strengthening the European scientific and technological base and fostering benefits for society. Moreover, the economic and industrial potential of policies directed at boosting innovation, research and technological development shall be exploited more efficiently. In fact, it is essential that public resources and efforts used in research are turned into socio-economic benefits for the EU. For this reason Horizon 2020 asks beneficiaries to meet certain obligations in terms of exploitation of results, including their protection through IP. Proper IP management should therefore be carefully considered from the very beginning of a project. 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?
Horizon 2020 is a very attractive and flexible programme to develop creative solutions to incorporate intellectual assets into proper business strategies. More than any of the former EU RTD framework programme initiatives it is calling for ideas and strategies to identify proper exploitation routes. There are great opportunities and only few limitations to design the most suitable exploitation strategy at consortium and/or individual participant level.
Exploitation channels may encompass a wide range of different paths to bring research results to the marketplace such as:
- Improving existing/developing new products and services to be more competitive in existing and/or emerging new markets
- Creating new businesses for further exploitation, i.e. Spin-offs or Joint Ventures among project partners or involving third parties outside of the project
- Taking advantage of licensing opportunities by negotiating the right type of licence to be granted, e.g. exclusive, non-exclusive or sole licence
By nature, licensing is a viable and the most common approach to create business opportunities out of research results.
It’s all about IP – the key to sustainable success
Horizon 2020 collaborative projects differ in their innovation dimension, but as a common principle, they bring partners with different business mind-sets and interests around a table. Expectations and strategies regarding the commercial use of project results are driven by the value and exploitability of IP generated in the project on the one hand and the overall business orientation of the participating institution on the other hand. An IP exploitation strategy at project level can only be successful if institutional IP policies are carefully incorporated and respected in the overall approach.
Usually, most of the institutions involved in Horizon 2020 projects have preferred or established IP exploitation tools and channels, and it is a recommended practice to exchange information within the consortium about those strategies at a very early stage of the project. Obviously, a sustainable and successful IP exploitation strategy at project level has to derive from, and be embedded in, the overall business development strategy of the individual consortium institutions. In the case of small and medium sized-enterprises (SMEs), for which Horizon 2020 has reserved a driving seat to stimulate innovation in Europe, it is not obvious to find proper internal management structures and capacities to turn IP into business. Therefore, specific support measures (i.e. Enterprise Europe Network, European IPR Helpdesk) are available at European, national and regional level to enhance the innovation capacity of SMEs.
In addition to the risk of IP conflicts among consortium partners, which might hinder the smooth implementation of a project, a lack of expertise in IP management and knowledge transfer poses a threat to the successful exploitation of project results. Far too often the full potential of commercialising research results remains unrecognised and thus not fully tapped due to inadequate experience and expertise in IP management. This insufficient exploitation of research results contrasts with the rising importance and demand of professional exploitation strategies, which are already an inherent component of collaborative research projects at the proposal stage.
About the author
Jörg Scherer is Chief Executive Officer of the European Research and Project Office GmbH (Eurice) and consortium member of the European IPR Helpdesk. With the Helpdesk he coordinates a comprehensive capacity building programme for academics and entrepreneurs in the field of IP & Innovation. Mr. Scherer has been working as a research manager in both the academic and industrial sector for the past sixteen years, and has a strong track record in research and innovation management issues within EU RTD Framework Programmes.
For further information on the subject, please take a look at our guide on IP in Horizon 2020 or browse our library for numerous fact sheets dealing with varying aspect of IP management in Horizon 2020 projects.