Universities produce innovations that not only advance humanity, but also serve as unique business opportunities. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) formed 27 startup companies and received $82.7 million in licensing revenue from its discoveries in 2022 alone. Patenting provides opportunities to generate revenue, advance further research, and improve your institution’s reputation as a center for learning. However, many universities need to devise strategies to encourage patenting. Here, I will introduce the key features of a strong patenting culture, provide examples of successful patenting strategies, and give tips for establishing a patenting culture in your institution.

A brief introduction to university research commercialization

In 1980, the Bayh–Dole Act was passed by the United States federal government, permitting the universities and non-profit organizations to retain title to inventions made with federal funding and to license it to others. This act promoted research commercialization by giving these entities the ability to profit from their innovations and encouraged private investment in research. In response, many universities in the USA set up technology transfer offices (TTOs), or technology licensing offices (TLOs) to manage their intellectual property (IP) and promote effective technology commercialization. Since then, the Bayh–Dole model has spread to universities and institutes worldwide, particularly in the Global North.

How can universities support patenting?

  • Setting up a technology transfer office

An effective TTO/TLO is vital to any patenting strategy. These offices not only manage the transfer of technology from universities and research institutions to the private sector, but also provide vital guidance for the institution and research personnel to realize effective patent commercialization. Furthermore, they also handle legal matters concerning IP, including patent applications, litigation, and transferring royalties to the parties concerned.

  • Royalty sharing

Royalty sharing between universities and researchers stimulates innovation by financially incentivizing research. Royalty sharing initiatives allow researchers to pursue commercially relevant research. Furthermore, royalty sharing can increase collaboration, as the promise of sharing royalties may make researchers more willing to share ideas, since they will all benefit from any commercial success. Finally, royalty sharing can encourage researchers to seek more patent protection, such as applying for international patents to maximize their commercial potential. In short, royalty sharing is an obvious win-win that should be part of any patenting strategy.

  • Establishing a university startup incubator

Technology startups provide lucrative opportunities to commercialize cutting-edge research findings. Harvard University, for one, has an impressive roster of startups that harness innovations from a range of scientific fields. While we all dream of investing in “the next big thing,” establishing a patenting culture can form part of a broader commercialization strategy to spin off companies that realize groundbreaking new services and products. Founding an incubator is a large undertaking that requires planning and strategy, so research is key. The article “So, you want to start a startup incubator or accelerator?,” penned by a student who successfully launched his own startup incubator, provides some interesting reading.

  • Build awareness of patenting

An informal survey published in Forbes in 2012 yielded surprising results. Among 60 graduate engineering students at UCLA, 68% could not answer the question, “what is a trade secret?” Meanwhile, 21%, 32%, and 51% were unable to provide an answer to what patents, copyrights, and trademarks are, respectively.

While this small survey is probably not representative, it’s nonetheless surprising that these students had little awareness of IP and why it is relevant to their own work. If researchers do not understand these concepts, they may struggle to understand what is patentable and fail to disclose such discoveries at a critical time.

Fortunately, the World Intellectual Property Organization has provided many resources on raising awareness of IP. While many of these resources are aimed at school-age children, this page also provides a six-step plan for building an awareness strategy and numerous examples of campaigns.

See also: Crafting a Patent Communication Strategy: Tips for Universities

Examples of patenting done right

  • India

The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) have had considerable success in commercializing their research and protecting their IP. One such example is IIT Bombay, which has successfully licensed technologies through its TTO and established close industry relationships. Institutional support for technology transfer, strong industry connections, government support and developed alumni networks have allowed IITs to be successful in commercializing their research and protecting their IP.

See also: Patents and the Intellectual Property Rights Ecosystem at Indian Universities

  • Japan

The University of Tokyo, better known as Todai in Japan, has a history of successful patenting, including in biotechnology, information technology, and materials science. In recent years, Todai publishes an average of 600 patents annually and has successfully launched major investment funds to capitalize on Todai-affiliated spinoffs, such as Citadel AI. Likewise, the University of Kyoto has similar initiatives for their range of patents. Overall, Japan’s public universities have a proven track record of successful patenting and robust commercialization strategies.

  • South Korea

In the 20th century, South Korea transitioned from a developing country to a global leader for innovation, recently being recognized as East Asia’s leading innovator ahead of Japan and China. One detailed analysis of technology transfer in Korean public institutions found that successful technology transfer relies more on promoting application research by offering incentives for patent registration and increasing support for researchers’ startups. These strategies have been successfully applied at Seoul National University (SNU), Korea’s most reputable university, which has a strong focus on technology transfer and has established successful high-tech startups at the SNU Campus Town with the help of the SNU Entrepreneurship Center. The university’s Research & Development Board Foundation has overseen successful commercialization of technologies with generous revenue sharing incentives.


A solid patenting strategy can be profitable for institutions and researchers, stimulate basic and applied research, launch new business ventures, and improve your institution’s reputation. In short, an effective patenting culture can benefit all involved.

Learn strategies to promote awareness of patenting in your university and to spur innovation through patents. Download this whitepaper.

David Burbridge

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *