Showing value in healthcare technologies - EPSRC


Intellectual property

Protecting the intellectual assets associated with your technology is one of the most important things you can do to ensure that the development of your technology can be supported in the future.

If your ideas are not protected then your ability to exploit them will be limited or lost. In the healthcare sector, inappropriately protected assets can frequently be almost as bad as unprotected ones. Protection is expensive and enforcement is even more expensive, so it’s important to get these decisions right.

Many researchers will already have a degree of familiarity with handling intellectual property and particularly patents. However, the healthcare sector introduces a number of challenges that make appropriate management of intellectual property more challenging.

Due to the rigorous processes required to validate the safety and efficacy of new healthcare technologies – see regulation – there are certain product types where the route from invention to market can routinely exceed 10 years.

Given the time-limited nature of most patents, timing in these cases can be critical. If technologies are patented too early there is a risk that the patents will expire before a product is commercially sustainable.

While an appropriately timed patent-led approach may be appropriate for many traditional medical devices, in some areas such as manufacturing technologies alternative protection options such as trade secrets can be pursued. Open access approaches are also becoming increasingly common for software.

Your university’s technology transfer office or equivalent should be your first point of call for all queries about intellectual property as this is where the expertise and resources to protect and exploit intellectual property usually reside.

It is wise to be conscious of the differences relevant to the healthcare sector, to ensure that the most appropriate decisions are made for your technology. Industrial collaborators may bring useful experience in this regard, though again we recommend developing your own understanding of best practice in this area to ensure that the right choices are made for all parties.

There is a particular tension between publishing the results of scientific work and protecting the intellectual assets generated from the project. While the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) expects that the outputs of publicly funded research will be made available, a reasonable delay while appropriate protection arrangements are made is both normal and acceptable.

A high quality proposal will suggest a strategy for identifying the intellectual assets that may arise from a project and the process that will be used to ensure that these are appropriately protected.

What to consider around intellectual property

You should consider:

  • how long do technologies like yours typically take to get to market
  • the intellectual assets your project might produce if successful
  • what the most appropriate method is for protecting each of the intellectual assets that might arise from the project
  • how the intellectual assets will be used in your exploitation strategy
  • if you know how to access intellectual property support within your institution.

Resources to request

Resources to support the protection and exploitation of intellectual assets are available through your institution, so EPSRC does not provide specific resources.

Further information

EPSRC guidance on intellectual property.

UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) – an introduction to intellectual property from the UK administrative body for intellectual property (IP).

IPO training tools – online training tools tailored to those working in sciences and engineering.

World Intellectual Property Organization – the global forum for intellectual property services, policy, information and cooperation.

Last updated: 16 June 2022

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