Research Perception BuildingSocial Media Outreach

How universities have successfully harnessed social media to promote patents

Recently, we looked at why developing a patenting culture presents vital opportunities for reputation-building, talent recruitment, and profit that both researchers and institutions should not pass up. Despite the accolades that can come with establishing a successful technology transfer program, it’s not a simple case of producing patents and waiting for money to roll in. A successful patenting program requires planning and strategy, which includes harnessing social media to effectively promote your intellectual property assets.

See also: Why Should Universities Patent Their Research? The Benefits of Patenting for Universities

A brief look at why universities are promoting patenting

In brief, patenting universities and their researchers to commercialize their inventions to realize new income streams. A successful incentive-based program can drive researchers to innovate further, thereby raising the profile of the institution as a center of academic excellence. Universities have even extended this approach to include founding new startup incubators , which can attract greater investments to the university.

Why institutions need a patent promotion strategy

Simply producing patents means little without a strategy to make them known. Few patents ever make it to market; in an increasingly crowded global market, making use of all available channels is vital.

See also: Five Steps for Universities to Craft a Strong Patent Communication Strategy

Why social media?

Social media offers new ways of reaching a global audience for relatively low costs. Social media platforms allow people with an interest in your research to stay abreast of the latest developments and provide a new way to reach out to prospective interested parties. One of the strengths of social media is that it allows you to reach people who are otherwise not engaged with your institution through networks with peers. Social media platforms additionally offer easy-to-use tools to boost your posts in users’ feeds or create advertisements to fit any budget.

Tips for a social media-based patent promotion strategy

Choose relevant platforms

Every successful social media portal has its own unique points and audience. LinkedIn is an obvious platform for promoting research and patents, as it is intended for professionals, including many of those in technology and academia. However, as a strictly professional website, it usually receives much less engagement than sites such as Facebook or Twitter.

Likewise, consider the target market. Twitter has so far been popular among the research community, but it is unavailable in China, where Weibo fulfils the same role. LINE is a better channel for connecting with researchers in Japan than Facebook or WhatsApp, and WeChat is another obvious choice to reach people in China.

Despite its huge rise in popularity, TikTok might best be avoided. Concerns regarding security have led to TikTok being banned in India as well as on government devices in Canada and the EU, and bans are tentatively being planned in the United States and the United Kingdom.

In brief, one service alone is unlikely to meet all your needs, but targeting a few with high relevance will result in greater engagement.

Include eye-catching visuals

Professionals in fields including advertising, education, and sales all agree: People engage with attractive visuals more than text. When you compete with hundreds of other posts in a crowded feed, a large and clear photograph or illustration can say more than a few paragraphs.

The successful growth of graphic abstracts also provides another choice. Creating a “graphic abstract” to explain your patent can go a long way to helping viewers understand the novelty and utility of your patents.

Provide a clear call-to-action

In digital marketing, choosing a call-to-action is critical for any effective strategy. A call-to-action is a button or phrase that encourages viewers toward a certain action, including providing details through a contact form, signing up for a mailing list, or simply going to a new page with more information.

Focus on commercial applications

A patent application document can be tedious for non-experts to read and process. It’s usually difficult to determine at a glance what use there is for an invention, meaning that usually only people with specialized knowledge can understand why your patents are valuable without some breakdown. For this reason, an actual mention of your commercial or humanitarian applications is invaluable. For example, mentioning your patent for a novel recombinant monoclonal antibody to EGFR would mean little to most audiences without a mention of its potential utility in cancer chemotherapy.

Ideally, if there have been any successfully marketed applications for existing patents, putting them at the center of your messaging is effective both for improving your institution’s reputation for innovation and for attracting future investments.

Show how your innovations help humanity

The demand for corporate responsibility and public interest in sustainability and health have increased. Researchers and their institutions are in the unique position of bringing truly revolutionary solutions to global problems, which are invaluable to creating truly engaging posts on social media.

Focusing on people and their stories is an effective way of showing how your inventions help humanity. When talking about a new sewage system that can save lives in developing countries, a schematic is nice, but it’s better still to show the people whose lives have been improved by the prototype system and provide their stories.

See also: How Universities Can Develop a Patenting Culture

Universities who successfully harnessed social media to promote their patents

University of California

The University of California (UC) is a public research university system composed of ten campuses. Together, the UC campuses have made a name for UC overall as a major innovator, with its busy technology transfer offices applying for and commercializing thousands of patents every year. As one example, UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) has successfully commercialized its filament LED technology, even having a dedicated website on commercializing this patent.

UCSB often publishes research highlights in its magazine and shares them through its social media channels, most notably on LinkedIn. [] UCSB also has engaging and well-produced videos on its latest technologies that are easily shareable. []

University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge is a leading university worldwide in every metric, and that is also true of its social media presence. Currently, Cambridge boasts over 2.5 million followers on its Facebook page alone, with posts often attracting thousands of likes and hundreds of comments.

As one example, the University of Cambridge shared a post on successful commercialization of a patent from the university on their Facebook page that effectively embraces several of the points raised above, including engaging visuals and presenting a solution to a contemporary issue. []

Stanford University

Stanford University has long been at the forefront of multidisciplinary research and effective technology transfer initiatives. Their Instagram account has over one million followers, with typical posts gaining thousands of likes. In Stanford’s social media posts, we can see a human face to their efforts, providing engaging and personal perspectives on how the institution has enriched their lives and the world.

One great example is the recent Instagram post on Prof. Zhenan Bao, whose group has produced a dizzying array of materials based on multidisciplinary studies. Prof. Bao has over 80 patents to her name, including for a smart, hydrogel-based bandage that allows for in-depth and non-invasive monitoring of vital signs. The post includes a well-shot portrait, a look at the applications for this technology, and Prof. Bao’s own story. []


Many institutions with traditionally strong technology transfer initiatives have woken up to the value of introducing their innovations on social media. Creating a strategy for your institution that introduces the value and stories behind your innovations can reach new audiences and create opportunities for engagement with other researchers or prospective investors.

Would you like to know how to craft a strong patent strategy for your institution? Download this whitepaper.

David Burbridge

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