This entry of the phdhandbook.se was made in collaboration with the Swedish Intellectual Property Office (Patent och Registreringsverket (PRV), and was written by Christin Wendel. If you have any questions regarding the content of it – we recommend that you contact your local innovation office, your trade union, or the Swedish Intellectual Property Office directly.
PhD students and researchers create intangible assets such as inventions, designs, knowledge, scientific methods, software, work methods and measurement methods, etc.
Article 2 of the Swedish Higher Education Act (1992:1434) states that Swedish universities shall promote the utilization (nyttiggörande) of knowledge and competence in society. The Swedish teacher’s exemption (lärarundantaget) implies that employed teachers and researchers own most types of intangible assets that they create. The university is responsible for the utilization, but in many cases it does not own the assets that are to be utilized. Realising the potential value of research results therefore demands dedicated activity from employed PhD students and researchers.
The utilization of research results takes many forms. Educating students so that they bring new knowledge to industry and society is one form, publishing results in scientific journals another. In this text, we focus on utilization that leads to innovation, i.e. the realisation of the potential of the research results as products or services on a market or as any improvements implemented in society. However, the teacher’s exemption is also applicable to other things produced during the employment as a PhD student, such as teaching material and research outputs.
Most universities provide support for teachers and researchers to promote utilization. The type of support and how the support is organised varies between universities. Here are some examples:
- Innovation offices may give advice and help to fund the earliest stages of innovation. They may give advice regarding intellectual property rights and act as business coaches. The innovation office may help to draft agreements regarding research and innovation collaborations with organisations outside the university.
- Holding companies, incubators and accelerators may invest and act as business coaches to help researchers to start and grow companies and to help commercialise researchers’ intangible assets, including giving advice regarding intellectual property rights and research and innovation collaborations.
Intangible asset management and intellectual property rights
An intellectual property right (patent, trademark, design protection or copyright) gives the owner the exclusive right to hinder others from using the intangible asset that the intellectual property right concerns. For example, the owner of a patent may hinder others from commercially using the patented invention.
The intellectual property right owner may steer the asset towards the desired impact – be it successful commercialisation of products or services on a market or improvement of societal services. The strategy can vary from completely hindering others from using the asset, to giving anyone a free license to use the asset in any way they want. The point is that the owner of the intellectual property right is in control.
Registering, exploiting, and possibly enforcing intellectual property rights costs time and money and requires professional help along the way. A good first step is to contact the innovation support at the university.
PRV’s general advice for intangible asset management is to start by defining the intended impact. Next, identify the key intangible assets for accomplishing the impact. Then, identify the measures needed to be entitled to use these assets. Such measures may include claiming intellectual property rights and/or ensuring the right to use the intellectual property rights of others.
Intangible asset management and agreements in collaboration projects
In research and innovation collaboration projects between academic researchers and organisations outside the academy, agreements regarding the management of intangible assets are crucial for creating win-win situations for all parties. The collaboration parties need to align their objectives. They need to agree on who shall own the intangible assets brought to or created in the project and who shall have rights to use them in various ways during and after the project.
For researchers, it is often very important to make sure that they can publish their research results and that they are allowed to continue their research after the project. The organisations outside the academy, especially when they are private enterprises, often require ownership of the intellectual property rights concerning the key assets.
Intellectual property rights
The intent of the intellectual property rights system is to promote constant development and innovation by:
- Incentivising research and innovation by awarding creators and inventors time-limited exclusive rights to the intangible assets they create.
- Disseminating new knowledge and inspiring further research and innovation by making information about intellectual property rights publicly available.
PhD students and researchers are used to monitoring and analysing the state-of-the-art when planning the direction of their research. PRV’s advice is to also monitor the vast source of intellectual property rights intelligence, especially patent information. The intellectual property rights databases are available via prv.se. Anyone can search the databases, but it is advisable to consult a professional information search specialist for more advanced searches. There are several providers of such services on the Swedish market. Also, PRV has a consultancy branch that provides a range of search services.
More information about laws and regulations regarding intellectual property rights can be found here.