What do we mean by innovation and enterprise activities?

Innovation & enterprise activities refer to University activities that typically involve the development and transfer of University intellectual property, generated by any researcher, in any discipline, to an external organisation. These organisations then use the transferred intellectual property to develop and deliver measurable economic, social and environmental impacts through the creation of new products, services, public policy initiatives, population health programmes, educational tools and jobs. Here, the term Intellectual property is used to describe any creation of the mind, including inventions, literary and artistic works, software, designs, processes and discoveries.


The typical process to deliver economic impact is illustrated above. Moving through the internal phase can take 3 to 7+ years from initial innovation and a further 5 to 10+ years to generate significant impacts. Significant funding and investment are generally required.

We are here to help you navigate the various ways to exploit your innovation, the terminology and tasks involved, as well as the University’s incentives, policies and support available to researchers.

What is university intellectual property?

The term ‘Intellectual Property’ describes any property that results from the human intellect. In this context it includes any new or useful idea, discovery, invention, software, proprietary methodology or innovation developed by any researcher or member of staff. It is accepted, at all institutions, that only a relatively small percentage of University intellectual property output is relevant for innovation & enterprise activities.

To be suitable for licensing or creating a spin-out or social enterprise, the intellectual property must address a significant unmet need for users, consumers or wider society, disrupt a market/industry, improve an existing product or service or create a solution to a previously unknown need. For the opportunities that are suited to innovation & enterprise, the University uses various tools to protect this intellectual property such as patents, trade secrets, copyright, design rights and trade marks.

The University’s IP & Commercialisation team manages protection of intellectual property, for example by commissioning patent attorneys to file and prosecute patents on behalf of the University. Proprietary intellectual property is generally a key component for innovation & enterprise activity whether in support of for-profit or not-for-profit activities.

You can find out more about this in ‘what is intellectual property’ 

How is intellectual property transferred out of the University?

Intellectual property, in the context of innovation & enterprise activities, is typically transferred out of the University through one of two routes: either via a licence to an existing entity or via the creation of a new venture (either spin-outs or social enterprises). Prior to this transfer, the innovations require evaluation, protection, various types of validation (for example technical, commercial, with end-users, and regarding its impact potential), marketing and negotiation of appropriate legal agreements. These activities require a commitment of researcher time alongside support from the University’s IP & Commercialisation team.

Find out more about the innovation journey.

Can I still publish my research and engage in Innovation & Enterprise activities?

Publishing, presenting at a conference, or even discussing a research output with a colleague from another institution could inadvertently compromise your ability to protect the intellectual property.  If you believe your work has economic impact potential, we strongly recommend that you discuss your research with the IP & Commercialisation team prior to publishing.

Protecting intellectual property is an important step in the innovation & enterprise journey. Some form of legal protection is often required to give your innovation an advantage over the competition and prevent others from copying it or using it without your permission. There are a number of ways to legally protect innovations, including for example patents, copyright, design rights, trade marks, or simply keeping the detail behind an innovation a secret.

Not all intellectual property can be patented, but for those that can, patenting is an important part of the innovation & enterprise journey. To preserve the possibility of patenting your innovation, it is important that a patent application is filed before any public disclosure, and before you discuss the innovation with anyone outside of the University via presentations, lecture, poster, abstract, website description, dissertation/master thesis, publication or public discussion.

Any disclosure can limit or remove the scope for filing a patent. We strongly encourage a discussion with the IP & Commercialisation team at least a month before any disclosure.

You can find out more about protecting IP and the importance of confidentiality in what is intellectual property


Why engage in Innovation & Enterprise activities?

Innovation & enterprise activities are a way for you to play an active role in taking your research innovations to real-world impact. Engaging in the process will provide you with new knowledge, skills and networks. Researchers may be aware that demonstrating economic impacts from grant funded research is an increasingly important outcome for the Research Excellence Framework (REF).

It can be advantageous for career progression as impact activities, which include innovation & enterprise, are now recognised in the University of Glasgow’s promotion criteria. In addition, innovation & enterprise activities also provide the opportunity for personal financial reward.

Policies and incentives for Innovation & Enterprise

The University continues to evolve its support environment, policies and incentives to encourage and enable more researchers and academic staff to participate in innovation & enterprise activities. Most recently the University’s intellectual property (IP) policy has been revised so that employees receive a greater proportion of any income resulting from licensing of their innovations and a higher percentage of founding shares in new spin-out companies.

Researchers and academic staff are encouraged to read the following University policies to help you understand how you can benefit from engaging in innovation & enterprise activities.

University of Glasgow policies to support and encourage innovation & enterprise

IP & Commercialisation Policy

Conflicts of Interest Policy 

Academic Promotion Criteria  

The University intellectual property (IP) policy sets out the principles which govern the ownership, rights to use, and incentives to engage in innovation & enterprise activities.

Conflicts of interest can naturally arise from innovation & enterprise activities. The University’s conflict of interest policy outlines how employees should identify, disclose, and take appropriate actions to manage conflicts of interest.

The University has updated its promotion criteria to recognise and reward participation in impact-generating activities, including innovation & enterprise activity.  Impact performance is used to assess professorial and academic promotions.



Financial incentives for innovation & enterprise

One of the incentives for engaging in innovation & enterprise activities is financial (see IP Policy). Research and academic staff get to share in any royalties and other payments received by the University from licensing of intellectual property that you created, or if a spin-out is formed you receive founding shares personally in the company which you may sell if an opportunity arises. There is no certainty there will be a financial outcome for you from either route (licensing or spin-out) and, if there is a financial return, it can take years to materialise.

The University’s IP Policy sets out the financial incentives available and they are briefly summarised below:

Licensing Income

The revenues from licensing of University intellectual property comprise different mixes of payment depending on the deal and sector. These revenues can comprise upfront fees (fees that are paid on signature); milestone payments (an agreed sum paid on a specific event or milestone); minimum annual royalty (fees paid regardless of the amount of sales made) and sales royalties (% of net sales revenue). Payments to academics are calculated from net income. This refers to gross income minus any share to a third party (for example, a grant funder) as well as the University's IP protection costs and legal fees.

Universities generally take a share in revenue from innovation & enterprise activities, including net income from licensing of the institution’s IP to either third parties or to spin-out companies. The University’s share in this income represents the resources and support that have been put into developing the IP and managing the licensing process. This includes payroll and the provision of facilities, equipment and other services.

The table below outlines how the University of Glasgow shares all licensing revenue (less unrecovered patent and legal costs) between the employee that created the intellectual property, their College, and the University Innovation Fund to support future innovation opportunities. This revenue sharing scheme has been established to ensure fairness and transparency, and is in line with the revenue sharing schemes of other higher education institutions in Scotland and across the UK.


% Share of net licensing income

Net licence income



University Innovation Fund

Up to £100k




£100k to £1m




Greater than £1m




Founding Equity in Spin-Out Companies

When a spin-out company is formed, equity in in the company is shared between the research founders and University, as well as any third-party investors. Division of equity between the University and the founder(s) is intended to reflect shared risks associated with the formation of a spin-out company, as well as the University’s contributions to the spin-out. For example, ownership of the underlying IP, provision of the facilities and resources that were required to develop the IP, provision of IP protection and support services required to form the spin-out, and permission to use the University’s brand when publicising the spin-out company.

At the University, founding equity is shared between employees and GU Holdings Ltd (a wholly-owned subsidiary company of the University). GU Holdings is the legal entity that owns the University shareholding and provides post-incorporation support to spin-outs. GU Holdings is managed by a Board of Directors comprising the Executive Director of Finance, Senior Vice Principal and Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic), VP Economic Development & Innovation and two non-executive Directors from the investment community.

The sharing of founding equity in University spin-outs is as follows:


% Founding Shareholding

University (held by GU Holdings Ltd)

No greater than 30

University Employee Founder(s)

No less than 70

In addition to shares, founders may also earn consulting fees or have time bought out so they can be seconded to the spin-out venture. They may also get research contracts to their laboratories to support the research and development activities of the spin-out.

Social Enterprise

Social enterprise companies have a different legal construction to for-profit companies. Often these are companies limited by guarantee with members rather than shareholders. Social enterprise can encompass all types of models from charity to mission-driven businesses, and incentives in these companies are unlikely to be financial. Instead, researchers/academic founders can opt to be members, with the social, economic or environmental purpose or mission at the company’s centre. Social enterprises operate with the express purpose of creating value and income for society, with profits reinvested in the mission of the business. Opportunities for academic founders could also include consultancy or secondment.