Intellectual Property and the NHS

Intellectual Property (IP) is the novel or previously un-described tangible output of intellectual activity (i.e. a new idea or invention).

A variety of legal protection rights can be applied to Intellectual Property, some of which have to be registered to be effective whilst others arise automatically.

Intellectual Property can be categorised as follows:

  • Patents protect inventions for products or processes. The invention must not have been thought of before, must be inventive and must be capable of industrial application. A patent is registered by application to a Patent Office. Patents last for 20 years.
  • Copyright protects items such as written works, diagrams, charts, computer source code, photographs, music or even performances. Copyright arises automatically once your idea/knowledge has been expressed in permanent form. It must have involved some element of creation and skill and not copied (substantially) from elsewhere.
  • Designs protect 3D objects or designs applied to them, e.g. laboratory equipment or the design of a teapot or the design on wallpaper. They can arise automatically or can be registered with a Patent Office.
  • Database Rights protect collections of works or data (e.g. results, samples or patient information) which have been systematically arranged and are accessible electronically or by other means. There is no need to register.
  • Trade Marks Kelloggs, Mars, Orange and Bluetooth are all successful trademarks. Their value lies in the fact that they denote the origin and quality of the products they relate to. Trade marks can arise automatically or can be registered with the Trade Marks Registry at the Patent Office.
  • Know-How is any secret, technical information that is valuable and identifiable, including results, experimental techniques, formulae, chemical structures, source code etc. Intellectual property rights do not necessarily apply to know how (although copyright would automatically apply to written works etc.). However this form of IP is equally important.

Intellectual property rights are like any other property rights – they can be sold or licensed thus allowing the creator, or owner, of a patent, trademark, or copyright to benefit from his or her own work.

Intellectual Property and the NHS

Employment law states that anything done during the course of employment that can be deemed to be related to your work belongs to an employer rather than the employee. This means that all NHS organisations are likely to own a significant portfolio of intellectual property assets. Medipex was set up by the NHS as an independent body to manage these IP assets on its behalf, and where possible to enable commercial returns to be derived from these assets. For NHS staff this means that whilst anything they develop which can be construed to be part of their day job is owned by their organisation, through their organisation subscribing to Medipex membership they have free access to Medipex’s services to help them protect any IP associated with what they have developed, identify whether there is likely to be a market for it and to ensure that appropriate agreements are in place to enable its further development and commercialisation where it is deemed that commercialisation is possible.

Innovation Health and Wealth recognises the importance of the knowledge base within the NHS as a driver for economic growth in the UK and therefore it is important that NHS-owned IP or IP developed by companies working in collaboration with NHS organisations is properly managed and commercialised.

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“I would like to express my gratitude to Medipex for the sterling work your staff have done in clarifying the IP issues when several organisations are involved with the same research programme and suggesting a sensible way forward.”

NHS Trust R&D Director
Foundation Hospital