Protect your IP and commercialise your technology

Whether your journey takes you towards forming a startup or licensing a technology to industry, the College's commercialisation specialists will provide support and guidance to help you achieve your aims.

The teams can help you to think about and address the commercial opportunities that your invention may hold. They can help you to understand potential applications and to access and consult potential customers. They can protect your ideas through intellectual property and help you licence them to industry. They can help you create a new company - or provide you the freedom to go and do it yourself.

The other pages on this site provide some background on our approach to technology protection and commercialisation. If you would like to hear more about what we do in person, then you can contact us to arrange an initial meeting.

The  commercialisation process is different for every inventor. Talking to your faculty's Industry Partnerships and Commercialisation (IPC) team is the best way to understand how things might progress in your case. However, reading through the guide below will provide a high-level overview of our process, what we do to support the commercialisation of new technologies, and what you might expect at different stages. 

Commercialisation menu

When to talk to us

When should you tell us about your idea or invention?

The process of technology commercialisation can't start until you've told us about your idea, invention or new technology. In an ideal world, you would tell us about your ideas as soon as you possibly can.

One of the reasons we're so keen to hear about your ideas early is that it makes seeking intellectual property protection more straightforward. Protecting a novel technology through IP Rights such as patents is an important step in the commercialisation process, as it provides a substantial competitive advantage.

One significant requirement for patent protection is that an invention must be novel. This means that information on the invention should not be publicly available, either in written form or orally, before a patent application is filed. Once a patent application is filed, you can freely present and publish details of the technology.

If you disclose details of a novel invention publicly, IP protection is much harder to achieve. This can have a major impact on your ability commercialise research. Companies have to take a major risk when developing new products and are unlikely to do so if they will not enjoy the benefits of having a product or service no one else can offer.

It is therefore very important that you contact us early if you working on any novel research that could lead to commercial outcomes. You can contact us at any time - even if it's just to get on our radar - and we'll follow up regularly.

We understand the competitive nature of research and therefore won't delay your publication without explicit consent. A good time to contact us is as the draft publication is written, but prior to any external presentation of the concept. If in doubt, please contact a member of our team at the earliest opportunity. It is better for us to become involved at the earliest stages, rather than late in the research process, as this gives us more time to make a thorough assessment of the technology.

However, if we become involved later on, we are able to quickly make a decision about whether or not to protect and file a patent, or provide an opinion on whether your invention can be protected yet.

You should bear in mind that patenting is an expensive process, so we do not file patents on all the research that we deal with, and that sometimes a patent is not necessary - for example, when another form of IP protection is sufficient.

Intellectual property protection

Why is intellectual property important to university researchers?

Intellectual property (IP) allows us to protect inventions arising from your research. Other parties cannot commercially exploit this IP without our permission. Imperial College London's IP policy will inform you of your rights as inventor regarding intellectual property you generate while employed by the College.

IP at Imperial College London

At universities, Intellectual Property is most frequently generated as the outcome of research activities. The most common types of IP rights that come out of research at Imperial are Patents, Copyright, Database Rights and Confidential Know-how. You can read some overview information on these below. IP also covers designs, trademarks, performer's rights, geographical indications and some other rights. More than one form of IP can apply to a single creation - for example software can sometimes be protected both by patents and copyright.

IP Overview

  • Patents: Cover inventions which are novel, inventive and have a practical applications. Require an application and have a maximum duration of 20 years.
  • Copyright: Covers literary, dramatic, musical, artistic works and software. An automatic right that does not require an application, and has a maximum duration of 70 years from the death of the author (depending on jursidiction).
  • Confidential know-how: Covers unpublished confidential information, trade secrets, processes, methods and skills. Does not require an application, but does require careful management, and has an unlimited maximum duration.
  • Database rights: Covers databases. Does not require an application, and has a maximum duration of 15 years.

Licensing technology to industry

Commercialisation specialists will work closely with you to determine what the best route to market for your technology is. Often, this will be to license your technology to an industrial partner. We license technology to small, growing companies, as well as large, established businesses.

Some factors that we will consider when working with you to decide the best approach to commercialisation for your technology include:

  • The IP position - if it is narrow, licensing may be better.
  • Is new IP likely? If not, licensing may be better.
  • Is the technology core to your research area or future research? If so, a startup may be the most appropriate route.
  • Does a potential industry partner exist with the skills, facilities and expertise to take your technology forward? If so, licensing could be the correct approach.

The decision on whether to form a startup or licence the technology to industry is taken jointly between the College's IPC and Startup teams and you, the inventor. Ultimately it will be a collaborative process.

How we decide: Startup or licence

We take many factors into account in deciding whether to license its technology to an existing company or to establish a new startup company to develop and commercialise the technology. There is no pre-determined point during the technology evaluation process by which the decision must be taken. The criteria described below (and others) are continually monitored during the evaluation, and it may take some time for the final licence vs. startup decision point to be reached. 

Factors that may favour the decision to license to a third party
SubjectCondition
 Intellectual property  
  • Narrow IP position
  • New IP unlikely
  • Background IP dominated by third party (i.e. there is only one potential licensee)
  • The IP alone (+/- data) sufficient for licence
  • Significant post‑licence support not needed
 Inventor  
  • Technology not core to inventor's current/future research
  • Pressure to generate cash upfront or to bring in research income promptly
  • Inventor is not motivated to form a startup
Market opportunity vs. Investment required  
  • Incremental technology/improvement in established/mature market
  • Area is unattractive to investors currently
  • Market too small to justify even a small investment
  • Startup would need major, long term, high-risk investment
 Resources  
  • The best management, development skills and facilities already reside in a third‑party business
  • The technology could be progressed using consultants and project managers in‑house, if further development were required and funding available
  • No suitable management can be identified for a startup
 Technology  
  • Single market, validated application and/or component of a larger system
  • Technology Readiness Level and supporting data suffice to attract a licensee (or can be quickly generated at modest cost)
Availability of prospective licencees  
  • Target licensees can be readily identified in a concentrated market (not too many players, market not too fragmented).
  • A ready made licensee is available who could act as launch customer
Control & Influence
  • Imperial is content to remain remote from the control of the development by licensing to a third party
Economics
  • The overall, long-term value to Imperial is estimated to be greater from third-party licensing than from a startup route.
Business case
  • A stand alone business case cannot be made. A technology, not a company.
d

Factors that may favour the decision to form a new startup around the technology
SubjectCondition
Intellectual property   
  • There is a suite of IP (patents and Know How). New IP is expected. IP covers a potential range of products.
  • No blocking IP identified so far - predicted Freedom to Operate.
  • The IP alone may be insufficient but a value-added proposition can be crafted (e.g. including consultancy, design, services).
Inventor   
  • Inventor wishes to remain involved and supportive and can commit (some) time.
  • Alternatively, where we can manage development without inventor, Inventor willing to take a longer term view and prepared to defer reward(s).
Market opportunity vs. Investment required  
  • A disruptive or novel technology in a market receptive to new entrants or capable of creating a new market.
  • A diffuse market with many players - no dominant players to license to - better to launch a startup, make product and serve all of the many players via distribution agreements.
  • Market area is attractive to investors.
  • The market size can justify the future investment required.
  • Founders and investors can accept major investment requirement coupled to high risk.
Resources  
  • The best management, development skills and facilities do not already reside in a third party business.
  • We are confident we can locate, or have located, such a management team.
Technology  
  • Disruptive, Platform technology or entire system (rather than component) that spreads risk and increases opportunities. (Presents a higher chance of seeing a greater investment return vs. a single technology)
  • Technology Readiness Level and supporting data not yet sufficient to attract a licensee (and cannot be quickly generated at modest cost).
  • A startup is required to build the technology to a point where the full value can be realised.
Availability of prospective licencees  
  • Licensees cannot be readily identified
Control & Influence  
  • The College wants to influence the technology development indirectly through licensing the technology to a startup company (and potentially investing in it)
Economics  
  • The overall, long-term value to the College is estimated to be greater from a startup than from third-party licensing.
Business case   
  • A business plan/business case can be made for creating a company around the technology
d