We encourage the exploitation of the results of the research we fund in many ways. Applicants need to be aware of the importance of making arrangements for managing the intellectual assets generated by research projects.

The ESRC makes no claim to intellectual assets (IA) arising from the research and training that we support. Responsibility for managing IA arising from ESRC funding is delegated to the funded organisation. We recognise the need for a flexible approach and do not lay down any prescriptive rules about how IA should be identified or managed. As such, agreements between partners will need to reflect the circumstances of each case, and should be put in place before projects begin.

What are intellectual assets?

Intellectual assets extend beyond intellectual property rights (such as patents, trademarks, copyright and design rights) which provide legal protection to include know-how, processes and trade secrets - all of which may be developed during a research project.

What is intellectual property?

Intellectual property (IP) allows people to own their creativity and innovation in the same way that they can own physical property. The owner of IP can control and be rewarded for its use, and this often encourages further innovation and creativity which can have wider benefits.

The four main types of IP are:

  • patents for inventions - new and improved products and processes that are capable of industrial application
  • trade marks for brand identity - of goods and services allowing distinctions to be made between different traders
  • designs for product appearance - of the whole or a part of a product resulting from the features of, the lines, contours, colours, shape, texture and/or materials of the product itself and/or its ornamentation
  • copyright for material - literary and artistic material, music, films, sound recordings and broadcasts, including software and multimedia

Our approach to IP

The Research Funding Guide sets out our principles with regards to IP created from the results of research:

  • potentially valuable results or products arising from ESRC-funded research should, where practicable, be exploited for the benefit of all
  • unless otherwise stated we make no claim to the intellectual property rights arising from research that we support and it’s assumed that this will rest with the RO receiving the ESRC grant
  • we reserve the right to reclaim up to one third of the total income, up to the value of its original grant
  • ownership of the intellectual property arising from a research project to be clear from the outset.

In taking responsibility for exploiting IP, we expect the research organisation to ensure that all individuals associated with the research understand the arrangements for exploitation. 

Beyond the basic advice on this page we are not able to offer detailed advice and we will not get involved in any detailed negotiations, nor accept any financial or other consequences arising from IA issues relating to ESRC-funded research.

Collaboration agreements 

Where research is funded by or undertaken in collaboration with others, the research organisation is responsible for putting appropriate formal agreements in place covering the contributions and rights of the various organisations and individuals involved. Such agreements must be in place before the research begins. Research organisations are required to ensure that the terms of collaboration agreements do not conflict with the Research Councils' terms and conditions of research grants. The Lambert toolkit (Gov.uk website) for collaborative research can offer a good starting point for such agreements.

Arrangements between collaborative partners should consider:

  • Proportionality in negotiation - the amount an organisation seeks to take out of a project should be proportional to what they have put into it. Intellectual Property (IP) ownership is not essential; it is the right to use that is crucial and hence the goals of a project could be met simply by being able to use a piece of IP.
  • Avoiding overemphasis on IP - a broad view of commercialisation and its potential benefits should be taken in order to avoid too narrow a focus on patentable IP only.
  • Creating long-term partnerships - building relationships between universities and industry underpins successful IP exploitation.
  • Need for good practice (including clear communication) - to be followed by all sides in all negotiations.
  • Maintaining academic freedom - much of the IP generated by universities supports their own research and teaching and therefore universities must ensure that they protect their own freedom to operate. This should extend to allowing for multiple pathways to impact, to be determined by the university, for any piece of background IP that is required for a collaborative project.