During the mid of the 20th century the character of science dramatically changed, when further progress became more and more only possible due to large scale project with immense budgets. Many big research institutions outside of universities were founded with big budgets, big staffs and big machines, which coined the term “big science”. Today, not only in academic fundamental research, but especially in the development of enabling technologies relevant for practical industrial applications, companies join forces in large scale research cooperations. One such successful example was the cooperation between Sony and Philips in the development of the CD technology. But when multiple partners cooperate in the development of future technologies, one question always arises: Who owns the IP? The students of the MIPLM addressed this question by working with the case study IMEC which is part of the EPO’s IP teaching kit. We led an interview with the case study author André Clerix to learn more about it.

IPBA: Dear Mr. Clerix, you published with co-authors in 2013 the much noted paper “IP Models to Orchestrate Innovation Ecosystems” can you summarize this IMEC approach?

André Clerix: The imec approach ensures that each partner in an imec ecosystem gets access to the foreground, generated in that ecosystem, relevant for the business of that partner.

  • Foreground within the business activity of that partner can be used by that partner for exploitation.
  • Foreground that supports the R&D of that partner can be used by that partner to develop new products and services within its business activity.

Each partner in return contributes to that ecosystem by generating foreground based on his expertise and by making resources available (expertise, money, tools, materials, people, …). The principles of this sharing of information and resources are known upfront to each partner. This sharing of foreground and resources is managed by imec.

IPBA: Can you explain us, what a innovation eco-system is, what the role of an orchestrator in it is and why this concept is playing an increasingly important role in modern innovation environments?

AC: For imec an innovation ecosystem is the gathering of companies active in different parts of the value chain of a particular technology. These companies cross-fertilize each other within that innovation ecosystem, allowing them to innovate on their contribution to that ecosystem.

The imec approach is hence based on a thorough understanding of innovation required in such an ecosystem. By assessing the technical know-how and business activities of each partner, imec can create a ‘fingerprint’ for each partner. This ‘fingerprint’ allows imec to discuss with each partner what they should contribute to the ecosystem and what knowledge value they may expect from it.

As such imec ‘orchestrates’ who participates in that innovation ecosystem and what that participation should be to enable the required innovation within that innovation ecosystem. Imec can have an innovation ecosystem grow when needed to tackle problems by allowing new partners and/or new expertise. The innovation is therefore guided by imec and not left to coincidence.

IPBA: The IMEC approach focuses on the IP governance. What are the limits for the application of your approach in terms of firms, branches, institutions or technologies?

AC: Imec’s main role in an innovation ecosystem is to ensure and to enable generation of foreground, IP, and the business relevant access to it to its partners. In principle there are no limitations if partners accept the principles of this controlled IP sharing based on partner’s business, expertise, and contribution to that innovation ecosystem.

If a partner expects to gain direct financial advantage from an innovation ecosystem, e.g., by commercial licenses within the ecosystem, this will conflict with the knowledge value expectation of the partners. If a partner expects to have exclusivity on the generated foreground and being reluctant to contribute to the ecosystem, such a partner will not live in symbiose with the ecosystem.

IPBA: You published this article in 2013 – is the IMEC approach still relevant or does it need to be adapted today?

AC: The principles of the imec approach, as explained when answering the previous questions, are still applicable.

As imec is moving more and more towards applications based on imec’s technology, the imec approach is finetuned by introducing the concept of ‘Field of Use’/’Product’ combinations. By identifying in more detail the business area (and ambitions) of our R&D partner and/or licensee, we can better carve out the imec IP relevant for their business.

This way imec can provide more exclusivity in that business area on the essential imec IP, while still being able to license imec’s IP to other partners. In this way the concept of generating generic IP can be combined by sharing application IP with companies, competing on applications, by ensuring that different ‘uses’ and/or ‘products’ are being supported.

André Clerix is director IP of imec and leads imec’s patent group. After completing his engineering studies, he worked 10 years in R&D at imec. Since 2000 he is active in the field of intellectual property rights. He is a qualified European and Belgian patent attorney and obtained an additional master in Intellectual Property Rights. He is president of AIPPI-BE, of the General assembly of the Institute of Belgian Patent attorneys, of the expert group Intellectual Property of Flemish Engineering society and he is representative for Belgium in the European Patent Institute.


Case study IMEC:

The MIPLM students answered the following questions about IP management in the cooperation framework run by IMEC:

  • Please describe the concept of the Industrial affiliate programs (IAPs) and the different partners in the nanoelectronics industry with the example of the 3D systems integration IAP
  • Please describe the core IP management principles at IMEC to stimulate collaboration in the IAPs
  • Please describe how the long-term success is ensured with the dual core-dual site orchestration model

Group 2: Thorsten Dierkes, Jacob Watfa

Group 3: Lionel Parisot

Group 1: John Titan