Intellectual Property (IP) refers to the set of properties that emanate out of human creative labour. In today’s world, Intellectual Property (IP) has become the lynchpin of a modern university. It is said that IP is the foundation of a new university. Traditionally, universities have been associated with two functions – teaching and research. The entrepreneurial function, wherein the university dons the role of an entrepreneur or becomes a ground for entrepreneurial activity did not exist traditionally.
When the research output emanating out of a university translates into knowledge, which in turn results in the creation of commercially viable products or services, the protection of such research output becomes a necessity. Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) is a tool that protects such intellectual assets. Having said this, IPRs do not protect knowledge, per se but protect the products and services emanating out of knowledge.
Typical forms of IP emanating out of a university include –
- Patents – from a university research.
- Trademarks – from a university project.
- Copyrights – materials created in the university.
- Design Rights – there could be design registrations from the university.
- Topography of ICs/Semiconductor chips – university could have registrations for layout of ICs
- Plant Varieties – these are generally registered by agricultural universities.
- Trade Secrets – A trade secret can come out of a university work.
- Geographical Indications (GIs) – these generally refer to a right that is common to a community but there have been instances in which universities have taken initiative in getting GIs registered (for instance, Kerala Agricultural University was the applicant for Vazhakkulam Pineapple).
In order to elicit, manage and commercialise such IP, apart from educating its staff and students on IP, promoting and encouraging IP generation, hiring quality IP personnel, maintaining records, filing and prosecuting, an IP Cell is required in a university setup.
Now, the IP centre is known by many names. It is called the IP Centre, in some places it is called the IPM Cell, in the west it is called the Technology Transfer Office (TTO) or the Technology Licensing Office (TLO). By and large, all of them perform the same functions of managing IP. Managing IP is a broad term which includes, but not limited to – identifying IP, screening IP, protecting IP and maintaining IP. There are three types of IP Centres, viz. internal, external and mixed.
From a bird’s eye view, the functions of an IP Centre include –
In a nutshell, an IP Centre is a vital component of an institution’s innovation ecosystem. Management of IP, especially the screening of IP (or the IP intelligence) is the key function of a university IP Centre that cannot be delegated to an external entity. In case the institution is faced with staffing or budgetary constraints to setup an internal IP Centre, it can always go with an external IP Centre which does the job with a much lower capital expenditure, coupled with a very limited infrastructural and staffing requirements.