IP, patents and licences

What is IP?

Intellectual property (IP) can be described as creations of the mind, for example technical inventions, literary and artistic works, software, designs, symbols, and names used in business.

The core concept of the IP system is that certain products of human creativity should attract similar legal rights to those applying to physical assets.

IP is protected in law by, for example, patents, copyright and trademarks. In the University context, IP is usually embodied in the outcomes of research. It typically falls into two main categories:

  • inventions – which can be protected by patents

  • software – which is protected under copyright law

Where does Oxford University Innovation fit in?

Oxford University Innovation is the licensing and ventures company of the University of Oxford, and is regarded as one of the leading technology transfer organisations worldwide. Oxford University Innovation was established to help researchers at the University of Oxford protect and commercialise their inventions.

On first contacting us, the researcher is allocated a manager who will work with them to manage the activities involved in patenting, licensing, and/or setting up a spinout company.

This video describes the process:


In addition to assisting with these activities, we can also help support translational funding applications where appropriate.

Oxford University Innovation uses a panel of patent attorney firms to provide professional services and advice.

Marketing and commercial development

When a potentially valuable project has been identified and protected appropriately, we work with the researchers to explore the commercial opportunity.  This involves identifying the right partner for commercial development and exploitation in the marketplace.

There are a number of considerations when choosing a partner(s), including:

·         Do they have sufficient resources to take the technology to market;

·         Do they have real intent to develop the technology (e.g. does it compete with in-house programmes?)

·         Do they have awareness of access of the final products, where applicable, to developing countries (see below section on access to medicines)


A frequently-used way of commercialising University research is via a licence. A licence is a legal agreement in which an intellectual property owner (‘licensor’) grants a third party (‘licensee’) certain rights to use its intellectual property.

For example, a patent owner and a pharmaceutical company might enter into a licence agreement to enable the company to develop a new drug that is described in the patent. The licence would outline the terms under which the licensee could make use of the patent.

Licences can also be used for other types of intellectual property including copyright and confidential know-how.

Revenue sharing

Any revenue that Oxford University Innovation receives from the commercial exploitation of intellectual property will be shared with researchers and departments in accordance with University Regulations.

In practice this means that we will recover external costs incurred by the project, eg patent costs, and then retain 30% of the income as a contribution to ongoing costs.

The remainder is passed to the University for distribution by University Finance (single sign-on required). The University may be required to share some of the money with research funders or other institutions (eg where a co-inventor is not from Oxford), before distribution to researchers, the General Fund and the Department.

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