A New Study on the Interplay of Intellectual Property and Open Innovation




A new study has been published by the European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency (European Commission) prepared by the Institute for Manufacturing’s Engage (IfM Engage) team of Frank Tietze (Innovation and Intellectual Property Management (IIPM) Lab), Graham Bell (Director of Cubicibuc), with support from other IfM colleagues.

The study (Contract number: EASME/2019/OP/OO17) commissioned in 2020 to provide an empirical basis for existing Open Innovation (OI) models and the extent to which Intellectual Property (IP) – including patents, utility models, designs, but also trade secrets, data and know-how – facilitates or hinders OI, with a particular focus on SMEs.

SMEs are the engines of the economy but face challenges with IP in collaborative projects

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are considered to be the engine of the economy and SMEs often adopt a collaborative approach to scaling-up, partnering with other SMEs or commonly larger businesses.

Increasingly for SMEs, it is their soft-IP such as data, know-how and trade secrets that represent considerable competitive value to their business. The study shows that access to market knowledge, customer acquisition and relationship building are the most common reasons for SMEs to collaborate with other entities, allowing them to rapidly scale their business. Further, know-how, trade secrets, competencies and copyrights (including data) are the most common forms of IP shared between collaborating partners.

The study was based on 40 case studies from seven value chains and input from a wide range of practitioner experts from Europe, Australia, India, Japan, Israel, UK and US.

It is clear from these case studies that IP in many forms is a key enabler of collaboration. SMEs seek to share and gain access to different forms of IP through collaboration to pursue their business goals. However, a large number of SMEs still lack awareness and understanding of Intellectual Property and Open Innovation.

While the forms of IP may differ, the study did not find evidence that IP acts as a barrier to collaboration. What the data does show is that the behaviours, processes and lacking capabilities in relation to IP can act as barriers to successful partnerships. The study found four key challenges that SMEs face when dealing with IP in collaborative / Open Innovation projects – shown below:

SMEs need to think strategically and holistically about IP

The report concludes that to maximise the value of their IP SMEs need to think more strategically and holistically about IP. The evidence reveals that the SMEs interviewed understand some ‘IP essentials’, but lack in-house expertise/experience in managing IP strategically.

  • Strategic thinking means aligning the management of IP to the wider business goals, and particularly thinking about the goals of partnerships and the post-collaboration plans.
  • Holistic thinking means structuring the articulation of an organisation’s IP around packages of IP that presents a clear view of the necessary elements that support a technology, product or service. An holistic approach to IP enables 1) the identification of relevant background-IP prior to negotiations and 2) clear definition and articulation of the related soft-IP – which if left in traditional siloed registers (e.g. separate patent register and trade secret register) risks leaking valuable IP owned by the business to collaboration partners.

For anyone involved in supporting SMEs with collaborative projects, Open Innovation or general IP support, this report should be essential reading. Further details and a downloadable copy of the report can be found at:

About Cubicibuc

Cubicibuc Limited was established in 2015 as an independent technical consulting firm specializing in matters relating to Intellectual Property.

We believe good IP management allows business to protect its competitive advantage; to generate returns on R&D investment and to secure investment and finance. Modern businesses neglect their IP assets at their risk as poor IP management gives away value and reduces barriers to entry for competitors compromising the organization’s capabilities.

To manage IP well business must adopt a combination of commercial, legal and technical expertise – but always with a pragmatic focus to actively manage and exploit the IP in a manner that brings benefits to the business.

For more information about our IP Strategy service, or to discuss how Cubicibuc can help your organisation please visit our website at or contact Mr Bell at

About the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM)

Part of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, the IfM is a dynamic body of researchers, educators, practitioners, professionals and technical experts contributing to world-leading research and education. With a focus on manufacturing industries, the IfM creates, develops and deploys new insights into management, technology and policy.

About the Firm

Cubicibuc Limited
Address Cart House 2, Copley Hill Business Park, Cambridge Road, Cambridge, CB22 3GN, UK
Tel 44-7817 754 276

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