In today’s world, a university also dons the role of an entrepreneur apart from the traditionally known functions of teaching and research. The IPRs emanating out of a university include Patents, Trademarks, Copyrights, Design Rights, Topography of ICs/ Semiconductor Chips, Plant Varieties, Geographical Indications and Trade Secrets. Protection of these intellectual assets is a matter of prime importance, especially in a university setup, thereby making an IP Centre a vital cog in an institution’s innovation ecosystem.
An IP Centre may also be known as – Intellectual Property Management (IPM) Cell, Technology Transfer Office (TTO), Technology Licensing Office (TLO), Technology Commercialisation Office, Technology Licensing Department, Patent Cell and IPR Cell. Regardless of the name, the objective of this body is to protect, develop, identify and commercialise intellectual property that comes out of the university.
The functions of an IP Centre can be broadly classified as – identifying IP, IP intelligence, maintenance and registration.
- Identifying IP: identifying IP includes IP awareness and IP education.
- IP awareness includes two key functions of an IP Centre – clearing doubts on IPR and acting as a forum for exchanging ideas and information.
- IP education can be divided into three parts –
- Basic education – which basically includes different types of IP and enables one to distinguish between them.
- Ongoing education – technology, per se is very dynamic and keeps changing all the time. The developments in technology lead to developments in IPR, thereby warranting ongoing IP education.
- Advanced education – in an institutional setup, there could be students or professors interested in taking up a career in IP. The IP Centre can facilitate advanced IP education for them
- IP Intelligence: this is a key function of an IP Centre that is not recommended to be delegated to a third party. It includes the following functions:
- Identifying research results of commercial value – that emanate from a research project, a consultancy project or even from industry-university interaction. Most universities have an Invention Disclosure Form (IDF) for internal IP scrutiny.
- Evaluating commercial potential of disclosures – whenever a professor or a student makes a disclosure, it is the job of the IP Centre to come up with a business and evaluate its commercial viability.
- Decide – whether to protect IP or not. There could be many instances wherein the Intellectual Property need not be protected, and the university could directly publish it. The IP Centre takes a call in this regard.
- Market research – the IP Centre needs to constantly look out for industry partners to facilitate commercialisation of research results.
- Maintenance: IP Centre plays a key role in maintaining IP. This function includes –
- Record keeping – IP Centre keeps a record of all the IP filed to ensure timely renewal, especially when a university’s IP portfolio grows.
- Licensing – Apart form record keeping, an IP Centre is also tasked with licensing IP that is already granted. This could be in the form of exclusive or non-exclusive licenses.
- Enforcement – It is important to protect university’s IP from exploitation. This happens by means of litigation.
Registration: There are some forms of IP which do not require a formal registration like Copyrights. However, other forms of IP require registration. In a university setup, these predominantly include Patents, Trademarks and Design Rights. In case of Patents, the IP Centre must involve in a series of steps –
- Getting a working disclosure
- Generating a patentability search report
- Filing a provisional or complete specification
- Filing a PCT or a convention application
Thus, an IP Centre performs a myriad of functions, not just registering and licensing IP. IP Centre can boost the innovation ecosystem and could lead to having goal oriented research that is targeted towards societal needs and market needs. It is necessary for every institution engaged in research to setup an IP Centre. Based on the institution’s financial and staffing capabilities, it could choose to setup any one kind of IP Centre – an internal (runs and functions within the institution) or an external (run by a third party organisation for the institution) or even a mixed (some functions are carried out internally and others are delegated).