Protecting Innovation: Why Patents are Essential for Bringing Your Research to Patients
As a life sciences researcher working in a university or research institute, it is crucial to recognize that robust intellectual property protection is vital to be able to develop a product and secure the commercial success of your innovation. A patent guarantees 20 years’ of exclusive protection for your invention, preventing competitors from unauthorized use or exploitation of your findings.
While in academia focus has traditionally been on scientific publications, it is increasingly recognized that Universities are powerhouses of innovation and catalysts for economic and social progress. Consequently, in the last few decades, there has been a sharp increase in academic patenting, particularly in the US and in Western Europe (1). In fact, protecting and exploiting intellectual property is now considered a ‘third mission’ of many universities in addition to research and teaching. (2). University Technology Transfer Offices (TTO) provide crucial guidance to researchers in this area, with dedicated trained professionals who can provide guidance on the patenting and commercialization process to researchers to fulfill this third mission. It is now largely accepted that patenting brings an array of advantages for academic institutions, despite the considerable financial investment related to patent maintenance. Firstly, a patent can lead to increased investments from the private sector: when licensed to an industrial partner, a patent or a patent portfolio can be a source of income for the academic institution. Moreover, patenting represents a personal incentive for the inventors: particularly in the drug development field, where the goal of a research project is ultimately to improve the life of patients, IP protection is key in attracting the financial support from industry partners needed to bring a new drug to the market. In addition, patent filings are increasingly included in academic performance assessments.
When it comes to building a patent portfolio, fine-tuning of the strength, scope, and timing of your patent(s) is crucial. A patent application must be filed before any publication or public presentation of the invention, but applying for a patent at a too early stage in the research project may lead to insufficient supporting data, which can compromise the validity or enforceability of the patent. On the other hand, waiting too long for filing a patent application can result in missed opportunities or the emergence of competitors, possibly undermining the potential of your invention. The University TTO will be key to providing guidance in this area.
In conclusion, effective intellectual property strategies are a key element in allowing universities to fulfill their third mission: fostering cutting-edge research goes hand in hand with creating an environment that supports researchers in identifying and protecting their inventions. By recognizing the value of patents and embracing their role in knowledge transfer, we can harness the full potential of scientific research to drive innovation, foster economic growth, and address pressing societal challenges.
One way CEBINA aims to help with this commercialization is via our Danube Labs initiative (www.danubelabs.eu). We work with leading Universities mainly in Central and Eastern Europe to help researchers working on drug discovery to commercialise their projects. Danube Labs provides crucial translational funding to build preclinical data packages through working with our partner Evotec International, so projects are ready for spin-out company formation. Key for this is strong patent protection around scientific inventions, which will enable future commercial partners to have adequate exclusive rights for the products they will develop.
1) Nature 2017, 552, S10
2) World 2022, 3(3), 489-512;