Could my research have commercial potential and where can I get support?

Research commercialisation can be generally defined as the process of introducing to market a new product or production method resulting from academic research, this can be termed 'Direct' commercialisation. However, a much broader definition can be used, which encompasses all uses of research that can generate a financial return for the researchers and their institution; this might be referred to as 'Indirect' commercialisation.

See below for examples of different types of commercial outputs that might be relevant for your research and who to approach for support.

'Direct' commercialisation - overview & support

University support in this area is provided by Research Services, and is typically focused on the protection of intellectual property (IP) arising from the research, and the generation of revenues and profits through the licensing of this IP to commercial organisations or by the creation of spin-out companies.

Examples of 'Direct' commercialisation
  • Patentable products & processes - patent protection can form a key part of a commercial package. An invention may be a new method of production, a new product, or an improvement to a known technology. Patent formalities are managed by the commercialisation team but require a longer term commitment from the inventor to support the application through the filing process.
  • Unpatented tools, materials & services - cell lines, antibodies and other research tools may be developed by academics to further their own research. These materials and tools can often have value for third parties and can therefore be commercialised.
  • Commercial software - softwares including embedded systems, complete applications and apps may be licensed to third parties as a method of generating income and impact for the developing academics.
  • Financial tools & algorithms - algorithms developed as part of fundamental research may have applications outside of their initial field. Data aquisition and processing techniques can be of high value, but often require identification of a commercial partner.

* Please note these examples are provided to show the scope/examples of research outputs with some form of commercial potential; it is not an exhaustive list.

Research Services can help with the following questions:

Exploiting the commercial value of research
  • What do I do if a commercial organisation wants to license my research on commercial terms?
  • How can I set up a spin-out company?
Protecting intellectual property (IP)
  • How do I protect intellectual property from my research for future commercial opportunities?
  • My non-academic partners have used my research commercially. What should I do?
Assessing the value of research
  • How can I assess the commercial value of my research?

Who to contact

  • Researchers in the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health should contact Sue Smith in the Sheffield Healthcare Gateway.
  • Researchers in all other faculties should contact Research Services.

Contact us

'Indirect' commercialisation - overview & support

'Indirect' commercialisation has four common characteristics, and activity in Arts & Humanities and Social Sciences are more likely to fall under this category. Support is provided by the faculty KE teams.

  • Research outputs are generally difficult to protect with a patent;
  • Research outputs generate both direct financial returns (i.e. those arising from the sale of products or access to research data) as well as indirect ones (e.g. those deriving from the increased exposure and raised profile of the researchers and the institution);
  • Non-financial indicators (such as wanting to achieve research impact, strategic partnerships, prestige etc.) often have more influence on the decision to bring the research to market than considerations about profitability, financial scalability or sustainability;
  • Research outputs generate financial returns from commercial or non-commercial environments, thus encompassing the non-competitive provision of services to public sector or non-profit organisations.
Examples of 'Indirect' commercialisation
  • Methods & techniques - the research produces an innovative and systematic technique/method that improves the quality of existing product and services, or that can be embedded in a new product/service; despite being of a technical nature, methods and techniques are difficult to patent.
  • Organisational efficiency & methods - this category includes practices and methods that improve the business practice, HR management or production processes of an existing business; projects generating outputs of this kind are wide-ranging and very heterogeneous, and they come from across AHSS disciplines.
  • Consultancy / Knowledge Transfer Partnerships - as a result of the research, new knowledge is generated that improves the development or delivery of a product or service or public policy. However, this knowledge cannot be embedded in a product, service or method and as such it can only be applied to the specific needs of an external organisation by employing the expertise of the researcher.
  • Training & Continual Professional Development (CPD) - the research produces insights, methods or data that can be monetised through a training programme (given the high costs of training, only training programmes that have some scalability have been considered).
  • Data produced from research - the research produces a set of data that can be used to develop or improve a product or service with commercial value.
  • Financial models (Social Sciences) - a subset of non-patentable tools but with a stronger potential for high returns, this category includes social science research that improves the performance of financial models and products (i.e. by reducing risk or by providing more targeted services).
  • Creation, restoration, preservation of material (Arts & Humanities) - the research creates, restores or preserves material of historical or artistic significance, which generates revenue for music/arts organisations (e.g. through exhibitions and merchandising).

* Please note these examples are provided to show the scope/examples of research outputs with some form of commercial potential; it is not an exhaustive list.

Your faculty KE team can help with the following questions:

Engaging with non-academic organisations
  • Where can I get help finding non-academic partners to work with?
  • How do I set up a collaboration with a non-academic partner?
  • Where do I get help to handle a request from a non-academic partner?
  • How do I set up a partnership with a non-academic organisation?
  • I have been approached by organisations interested in my research/consultancy. What should I do?
Expanding the translation of research
  • Where can I get support to access research funding opportunities?
  • My research may be valuable to external organisations but it needs further development. What funding is available?
Assessing the value of research
  • Can the University help me to be more proactive in consultancy opportunities?
  • How can I evaluate the commercial potential of my research?

Contact your faculty Knowledge Exchange teams