IP Knowledge for Future innovators using Crowd Sourcing and Funding


Held on 29 January 2014 at London South Bank University (LSBU) and hosted by Brunel University’s Co-Innovate initiative and HEEG (the Higher Education Entrepreneurship Group); the workshop was introduced by Stephen Green (Programme Director and Co-Innovate Leader, Brunel University). He highlighted the imperative for new IP knowledge in the emerging landscape of crowdsourcing. Essential information was provided from various speakers including the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), the creative industry and higher education institutions. Over 60 people from academia and SMEs actively participated in the one day event. The workshop explored three key themes:

Understanding IP and its types: Description of different types of IP Rights and the importance of choosing right IP strategy to drive a business forward.

IP issues in crowd sourcing and funding: Challenges in IP protection in crowd sourcing / co-creation and how to successfully obtain crowd funding with success stories and current supports.

Embedding IP in higher education in design/creative disciplines: How to effectively educate art and design students about IP, for example, updating the university IP policy and learn-by-doing methods adopted by different universities in London.

All these issues were discussed by 15 speakers (download the full programme with speakers’ biographies here), full of practical advice and real world examples.

Understanding IP and its types

Chris Smith (Innovation Directorate, Intellectual Property Office) started the workshop by presenting results from the IP Baseline Survey stating that 96% of UK businesses do not know the value of their Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and 74% of UK businesses could not correctly identify the owner of copyright when using a subcontractor. It is just as important to entrepreneurial business and educational institutions supporting students/graduates to be aware of the IP and how best to protect their rights. There are 7 types of IP that IPO deals with from Patent, Trade Marks to Trade Secrets (see Chris’s presentation slides). Choosing and applying the appropriate IP ‘instrument’ can be challenging, for which the IPO designed has recently launched the IP Equip Tool – an online tool that makes it easier to self-assess what is the appropriate route for different situations.

Jerry Bridge-Butler, a patent & trade mark attorney from Baron Warren Redfern, explained some challenges that can arise when applying for Patent, Trade Marks, Designs and Copyright. In his presentation it was clear that, Brands and Design are powerful tangible way to exploit value and protect ideas. In the area of crowd sourcing and funding, one problem area can be disclosing a potentially patentable idea without compromising the ‘newness’ of the invention. Some of the ways to overcome this without going through expensive and lengthy process of filing patent were suggested such as filing a provisional application (12 months) and maximising the ‘patent pending’ status. There are some other ways of protecting the IP such as Trade Mark and Design Rights. Jerry explains that it is important to choose the appropriate IP protection method to suit the needs of individual circumstances (see Jerry’s presentation slides). He used an analogy of ‘car insurance’ to describe the patent which is useful when there is infringement, but it is not a driving force in creating and maintaining a successful business.

This was echoed in the presentation by Naveed Parvez(Entrepreneur & Co-founder of Project Andiamo) where he shared his personal experiences of working for various start-up companies. He explained the emotional drivers behind approaches to IP. Ego, fear and grief are all part of emotions when attempting to protect an idea. Too much emphasis on protecting an idea, to fulfil one’s own ego, can have a negative impact on both time and resources. Similarly, too much fear of losing an idea can also have impact on performance and efficiency of a business. These emotions are naturally associated when one thinks about protecting an idea. The danger is that if a business is consumed by these emotions, they may win all the battles but risk losing the war. Naveed emphasised the importance of remembering why you are trying to protect the idea. He also brought up the controversial point of “sharing openly an idea” vs. “protecting” and so far, in his journey, sharing openly has attracted partners who want to help make his invention happen. Although, this is balanced against other “investors” who want to see a patent first before they will invest. (see Naveed’s presentation slides)

IP issues in crowd sourcing and funding

Real examples of crowd sourcing and co-creation were given by Felix Koch, director at Promise. Co creation is an alternative model to crowdsource, in which collaboration is at the core of the process, where in crowd source contributions may be from an individual, in co-creation the ideas are developed by a community, which in this case, the IP is owned by the company that launches the project. His clients, such as Dannon (Activia) and British Airway (Flatbed seats) have used consumer insights using co-creation methods to create solutions that were successful in the market. The current business model is that the company commissioning the research and design owns the IP and asks participants to sign ‘terms and conditions’ in exchange for rewards which vary according to personal motivations, from a small monetary incentive, the pleasure of collaborate and solve problems for the sake of learning something new, or simply the kudos of helping create a new product or service that they use. At the moment, this is considered as normal practice, however, questions were raised concerning whether consumers will become more demanding in the future as they become more aware that their input, combined with the crowd, is helping to increase the profits of business (see Felix’s presentation slides).

The question of who owns the IP within co-creation becomes even more complex when dealing with collaborative art and design projects. Silvia Baumgart of Own-it, University of the Arts London (UAL) raised this issue. She used example of famous London Tube map by Harry Beck, where he used the principle of electric circuit to create connection based map. Although the map is copyrighted, it is not particularly well protected, and the person who created the electric circuit, that Harry Beck referenced, did not receive any benefit from the Tube Map.

So what happens in crowd funding platforms such as the Indegogo and Kickstarter among many others? Oscar Lhermitte (Founder, Sidekick Creatives LTD) shared his personal journey of using one of the platforms to crowd fund his design for an innovative bookmark created whilst at the Royal College of Art (RCA). He used kickstarter to fund his design, now successfully manufactured and sold to 56 countries. Interestingly, his community of crowd funding backers alerted him to 2 designs that were also being advertised for funding on the site. They had copied his design, but the ‘crowd’ had helped to prevent these copycats reaching their funding goal. Oscar described that the support from his backers as not just financial, but also as a community to protect the integrity of his idea and design. The experience of starting and successfully receiving funding from the crowd funding platform has led Oscar to start his own agency which helps designers and artists who want to crowdfund their projects (see Oscar’s presentation slides).

Similarly, the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) is supporting entrepreneurs who want to use crowd funding platforms with its own ‘RSA Catalyst Programme’ as described by Alex Watson. He manages the programme which offers workshops, support, advice, and publicity to RSA members. The programme also matches the experts (RSA Fellows) with entrepreneurs to make sure the project is successful on the crowd funding platform. The RSA is an interesting example for Universities, since it is a non-commercial organisation, rooted in innovation principles, and its core asset is the network of fellows and the positioning of Though-leadership. Their initiative of helping fellows for crowdsourcing is aligned with the “thought Leadership” agenda. It supports entrepreneurial fellows get funding, by using its shared knowledge as well as the power of networks.

Embedding IP in higher education in design/creative disciplines

Silvia Baumgart from Own-it, UAL is developing insights into why is it so difficult to teach IP to students in creative studies, since it is counter intuitive: while students want to share their ideas, IP usually speaks about protection. But in her experience, when students understand IP as a value creation, they get interested. Is it a challenge of language or approach? From the delegates there were suggestions of giving the students a task to write the briefing to create an IP knowledge unit.

Patrick McCarthy gave an interesting presentation on various crowdsourcing, crowdfunding and co-creation projects in academia, more from science and engineering, and some of the challenges from the cultural shifts, to IP and Open Innovation perspectives. An interesting question is if academia should create its own crowdfunding platforms or should it make use of open platforms, such as kickstarter.

The UAL is undergoing a major reorganisation in their IP policy as Dani Salvadori, Director of Innovation, Business and External Relation from Central Saint Martins, UAL, describes. The review into IP at UAL has concluded that it is not the University’s role to get involved directly with student IP, and a better approach is to educate students to better manage their own IP and let them do it themselves. The approach of better educating students to better manage and take responsibility of their own IP is crucial in integrating IP as an important part in higher education because the general consensus from this workshop’s audience was that IP should be integral to the educational design process, not just an add-on.

Universities such as Brunel, Kingston and LSBU shared examples of different approaches for commercialising students’ projects and how the university supports the development. The students learn about IP by doing, as they experience the commercial development of their ideas. Ian Ferris (Innovation Director, co-innovate, Brunel University) gave such an example where the university initiated a platform for matching student IP with business interest. This pilot was a collaborative project between Brunel University and the University for the Creative Arts (UCA), funded by JISC. The project aimed to explore the possibility of using an online platform to broker links between student generated IP and industry. Another example of giving students the understanding of IP by doing was shared byPeter Christian from Kingston University who brought a different perspective to the discussion: since they do not need to teach IP but just let students “do it!”, for which they have used many different ways of commercialising student’s design works. For example, creating a pop-up shop in Kingston town centre to sell student’s work directly to the public and by encouraging students to fully utilise current crowd funding platform such as the Kickstarter. It is thought that these ‘active’ projects would better help to ground students in IP knowledge and the commercial implications of their work.

Syeda Rahimunnessa, IP manager of LSBU, presented how their entrepreneurial centred approach helps and encourages students to push forward their ideas into commercial world. Educating students about IP has been challenging. One of the challenges is to make students understand the importance to include IP in their business plan (and see IP as a business asset), assess the value of intangibles (such as brands) and how to communicate IP to the stakeholders, such as investors, customers and collaborators. So, at LSBU, a different method of teaching IP has been explored. They are currently piloting ‘Gamification’ to teach IP to both students and staffs in order to make IP more meaningful.


Overall, the event confirmed that crowd funding and crowd sourcing are hot topics within both academia and industry. Are we at the beginning of a revolution in using the world-wide crowd to help create and shape ideas for future innovation products and services? Is crowd funding the start of things to come in helping many more socially engaging projects launch that would typically have not received backing from convectional funding sources. If this is the case, then the issues surrounding protection of ideas requires new methods, knowledge and advice to help future innovators understand the choices they need to make.

We would love to hear your thoughts please join the debate

Maria Ana Botelho Neves Design Strategist commented:

How can we learn from the films industry, how it creates value from IP and their system for copyrights? Another discussion is the culture of respecting author’s rights, or lack of respect, for which today’s consumers of ideas believe it is okay to use freely anything available on the web, from images, to texts, music, etc. A missing issue, but very important to this topic, is the open rights agenda, and the creative commons (CC) proposition. How it creates value and what is the context for it. Crowdfunding can also be questioned and framed in different ways: open or closed? Is it different for high capital investment? It’s a big world out there and very dynamic, with less controlled, how do we know if a new idea is not a copycat? And does it really matter?