Protect your knowledge

Although it is probably not the first thing on a researcher’s mind, there are several reasons why it may be necessary to protect your idea, knowledge or findings – before bringing them into the public domain. Most importantly, you don’t want others to commercially exploit your idea without authorisation. And in the case of existing or potential future third-party collaborations, you may need to file a patent in order to protect your knowledge.

Patenting and copyrights

First, it is important to note that not all research results and findings require patenting. Moreover, patents are not the only means to protecting knowledge. The fact is that written scientific material is automatically protected by copyright – the same goes for software – and in most cases, that is as far as protection goes. In certain instances where patenting does not apply, it may be the best option to not disclose every single detail of your findings – by ‘keeping them a secret’ so to speak. This black-box principle is very useful for questionnaires, apps and even ICT algorithms.

What exactly is a patent and why should you apply for one?

A patent is a commercial monopoly aimed at preventing others from copying or plagiarising your work. Only those ideas or findings that are ‘new’ (as in: never before introduced into the world) and ‘inventive’ (i.e.: not obvious) are eligible for a patent. (For example, you can’t patent a chair with five legs – the reason being that it is too obvious, with four legs as the standard.) Another requirement for patentability is that someone ‘skilled in the art’ should be able to reproduce the ‘idea’ based on the information in the patent application.

Why take on the hassle of patenting an idea? A successfully filed patent is a very valuable asset that can be instrumental for research in getting an application to market. Companies are more likely to invest in discoveries and innovations that will gain them a unique market position and consequently a good return on their investment. A patent that is licensed to a company will secure this unique position.

At IXA we are aware that filing a patent is a time-consuming process that requires insight. Therefore, IXA will assist you in the patent application process. Both the application costs and the costs of maintaining a patent are covered by your university’s Patent Fund.

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Further protection may be required

Even with a patent, you still need proper arrangements in place before sharing your knowledge outside your university. For instance, if a company or other entity shows an interest in your research results or project, have IXA draft a Confidentiality Agreement – before disclosing any details. Once signed, this document – also referred to as a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) or confidential disclosure agreement (CDA) – enables open discussion while protecting the rights of each partner.

Your findings are now protected. What’s next?

Protecting knowledge is not a goal in itself. It is a means to exploiting knowledge and inventions outside the university and the academic world, for example, by licensing a patent to an external party or a university spin-off. The relevant party is hereby granted permission to use this knowledge for commercial activities, possibly in return for royalties.

Read additional information on public-private partnerships in our brochure Partnering successfully with a company.
Find the answers to all your questions on how to start your own spin-off company in our brochure From researcher to entrepreneur.

Patenting before publishing

Be aware that it is not possible to receive patent protection after details of an innovation have already entered the public domain. This includes scientific literature. Rule of thumb is patenting before publishing! Under the proper circumstances, you can start publishing your results while still in the application process for a patent.

Report a potentially patentable finding well in advance

When making a potentially patentable invention, you must report it to your manager or supervisor first, then to IXA. Once you discuss the invention with our business developers, they will be able to establish whether it is patentable. Subsequently, they will go into more detail with you in order to determine potential applications and exploitation.

Ownership and inventorship of Intellectual Property (IP)

According to the Dutch Patent Act (Rijksoctrooiwet) and the CAO-NU, universities and their medical centres own the rights to discoveries and inventions made by their employees. In the institutes’ IP regulations, this extends to discoveries of others, such as interns and externally funded PhD candidates. Nevertheless, universities and medical centres do acknowledge inventorship in their policies. When your finding is protected with a patent, all the inventors will always be listed in the patent as the ‘inventor’. The patent itself will be registered in your university’s name.

The Invention Scheme

If your knowledge is exploited after being patented, any net potential revenue will be divided between the inventor personally, the faculty and the university’s valorisation fund. An allocation key applies, which is also referred to as the Invention Scheme. In short, this scheme stipulates that – after deduction of the patent costs – the inventor, the faculty and the university are each entitled to one third of the revenues. You can find more information on this in the Summary Regulations Governing Knowledge Utilisation 2018.

The actual patenting process starts by submitting the IXA Invention Disclosure Form. The IXA business developers will guide you through the process. After the patent has been submitted, your dedicated business developer can start identifying companies or organisations to whom your invention may be of interest. During the entire process, IXA will keep working in close co-operation with you as the inventor.

Find the respective downloads at the bottom of this page or refer to our Documents & Brochures page, which gives you a complete overview of each possible download on this website.