Intellectual Property (IP) allows you to have ownership of the inventions you create. As with ownership of physical property, IP enables you to use and benefit from the outcomes of your research. Other parties cannot commercially exploit your IP without your permission.

IP in the University setting can be defined as the results of research activities. The most common types of IP rights arising from research at Imperial College London are Patents, Copyright, Database Rights andConfidential Know-How.

IP also covers designs, trade marks, performer’s rights, geographical indications and other such creations. More than one type of IP can apply to one creation e.g. software can sometimes be protected by patents and copyright

Read Imperial College's IP policy

  • Patents
  • Copyright
  • Database Rights
  • Know-How
  • Materials
  • Intellectual property overview

Patents protect new inventions and give a monopoly right to the inventor(s). However, the right is restricted by the details and claims within the patent document, which will include how the invention works, what it does, how it does it and how it is made.

Products, technology and methods can all be patented, but ideas and theories by themselves cannot. For an invention to be patent protected it must be novel, inventive and have an enabled practical application.

For example, there are theories about how one could create a room-temperature superconductor, but no-one can claim a patent until they have put these into practice with an actual formulation for a material that is superconductive at room-temperatures.

The requirement for novelty means that the invention or key elements of it should not have been publicly available anywhere in the world prior to the date of the patent application. Please contact us before you publish or present.

Contact a member of our team

Inventiveness (= non-obviousness)
A key feature of a patent is the demonstration that the results described are not obvious.

An enabled practical application
The invention must be capable of being used or made commercially or industrially. There should be one example of how it can be used in practice, including a description or method which can be followed by a knowledgeable person.

Read more about:

The patenting process Imperial Innovations' patent policies and ethics

Copyright protects the author against unauthorised copying of original literary works and dramatic, musical and artistic works. It also protects against any unauthorised copying of layouts, recordings and broadcasts of a work.

Under copyright computer programs are protected as a literary work. However, some software can also be patented.

Copyright is an automatic legal right and no registration is needed; it exists as soon as your work is fixed in some way such as in writing or on film.

Copyright does not protect an invention embodied in your publication.

Read Imperial College's Copyright Policy

A database right, like copyright, is an automatic legal right that protects the author against unauthorised copying of the database, or parts of it. Unlike copyright, which exists in most parts of the world, the author must be a European Economic Area resident

Confidential know-how typically covers trade secrets, methods, processes and skills, which the inventor does not publish.

It may be in the form of a unique biological material, for example a monoclonal antibody cell line, or a strain of microorganism. It can also be very valuable, for example the Coca-Cola® recipe or clinical drug trials data.

There is no formal registration of this right but there is also no formal protection. Legal protection depends on controlling access to the information through confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements. Innovations can organise for non-disclosure agreements to be drafted and signed by interested parties – please contact us at the earliest opportunity so we can arrange this, and reserve the opportunity to file a patent.

Imperial College London protects the ownership of its unique materials or reagents by putting in place Material Transfer Agreements to cover the movement of materials between academic institutes, charities and industry.

Imperial College London's MTA Process


Cover inventions which are novel, inventive and have a practical applications, require an application, and have a maximum duration of 20 years.


Covers literary, dramatic, musical, artistic works and software, does not require an application, and has a maximum duration of 70 years from the death of the author

Confidential know-how

Covers unpublished confidential information, trade secrets, processes, methods and skills, does not require an application, and has an unlimited maximum duration

Database rights

Covers databases, does not require an application, and has a maximum duration of 15 years