Protecting intellectual property

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Institutional Communication Service

26 October 2021

InCube Challenge (October 11-15), Climathon (October 29-30), Swiss Blockchain Hackathon (October 29-31), Boldbrain (final on December 2): these are all competitions that are taking place in recent weeks in collaboration with USI and feature our students, researchers and new entrepreneurs developing their innovative ideas. Opportunities for personal and professional growth, which offer valuable tools and contacts. These initiatives are different, but they have a minimum common denominator: the participants put their ideas on the line to win a competition and prize money. We took the opportunity to discuss Intellectual Property protection (IP) with Andrea Foglia, Technology Transfer Manager at USI.

Let's take an example among the initiatives currently underway: how does the InCube Challenge work, also from the point of view of intellectual property protection?

"The organisers formed interdisciplinary working groups that addressed the so-called challenge with their different expertise. The challenge was defined in collaboration with the sponsor of each cube. As a result, the students gained an enriching experience, and the best group was awarded. From an IP perspective, the rights of the participants have been regulated: agreements for a fixed period reserved the option for team members to protect their ideas through patent applications or otherwise. The format of the event also called for ideas to be presented publicly at the end of the competition."

Is there always a public aspect to this type of competition?

"No, it depends on the format. Other competitions are extremely confidential: participants and event organisers (including coaches and jury members) are asked to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), confidentiality agreements between the parties to ensure that they do not disclose confidential information. In some cases, a public disclosure makes it difficult to register a patent application in the future. In these instances, signing an NDA becomes a useful tool to protect the participants' intellectual property, who can then present and elaborate their ideas without running the risk of losing their rights. Regardless of the format of the competition, USI is sensitive to the topic and aims to offer a clear and secure framework. But this is not the case everywhere: this type of competition is increasingly common, and there may be exceptions. Outside the university environment, I would suggest some caution".

So, what would you suggest people pay attention to when putting their ideas into play from your privileged observatory?

"I think the crucial thing is that participants who sign up for this kind of competition are clear about what they are signing up for and understand what the rules of the game are. Event organisers also have a part to play in this, as they need to ensure clear information so that those involved can make informed decisions. On the one hand, there are certainly very enriching experiences. Still, on the other hand, it is possible to find regulations that do not sufficiently protect the IP of the participants".

When someone has an idea that could be patented, what is done at USI to enhance that asset?

"At USI, there is active management of IP protection processes, entrusted to the Research and Knowledge Transfer Service (what they call the Technology Transfer Office). As a Technology Transfer Manager at USI, I act as an intermediary between the university and companies. My tasks are quite diversified: from the evaluation of new inventions to the management of the subsequent patent procedure, from the negotiation of collaboration and licensing agreements with industrial partners to the support in the creation of spin-offs".

What would you recommend to those interested in developing an entrepreneurial idea?

"I find the range of courses and initiatives offered by Innosuisse, the Swiss Agency for the Promotion of Innovation (https://www.innosuisse.ch/inno/it/home/start-and-grow-your-business/start-up-training.html), very valid. In addition, the USI Startup Centre (https://www.startup.usi.ch) is developing outstanding promotion and support activities as well as Center of Advanced Studies on Entrepreneurship in BioMedicine (CASE Biomed). And as a Technology Transfer Manager, I am available for targeted advice."

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