Home / Innovation and IP / Innovation and IP FAQs


Innovation and IP challenges appear on each step of the journey from idea to the market. To help you deal with these challenges effectively, we showcase a number of representative stories that highlight best practices, common mistakes and smart solutions.

  • IIPO
  • Copernicus/EO data licensing
  • Bringing an EO idea to the market
  • Intellectual property for EO solutions
  • Innovation and investment for EO

What is the IIPO and what does it offer?

The e-shape IP and innovation office (IIPO) supports EO stakeholders in their innovation and intellectual property-related activities. We create and collect guidelines, and discuss in depth relevant case studies.

We also provide tailored active support aimed at maximising the results of your EO-related IP and innovation efforts.

What are the terms and conditions of Copernicus data use?

The free, full and open access policy of Copernicus data includes lawful use reproduction, distribution, communication to the public, adaptation, modification and combination with other data and information or any combination thereof.
Access and use can only be limited in rare cases of security concerns, protection of Third Party rights or risks of service disruption.

How do I access Copernicus data?

The data and information delivered by the Copernicus Services are madeavailable to users through the websites of the service in question. In mostcases, data and information can be browsed/discovered without priorregistration, but registration is required for downloading. (More at https://www.copernicus.eu/en/access-data and https://www.copernicus.eu/en/accessing-data-where-and-how/conventional-data-access-hubs)

Where can I look for other open data to integrate in my EO product?

Numerous sources and platforms for EO data are available, for free or against payment. Some examples of freely downloadable data are listed here.

What should I pay attention to when using open source software?

As they do with proprietary software, users must accept the terms of a license when they use open source software. Thus, attention shall be paid to its terms and limitations, making sure that they correspond to the intended use –the licensing condition of a product or data (either paid or free) could include conditions for re-use, such as mentioning the source of origin, etc.

My EO product/service depends on a 3rd party, how do I assure service continuity?

A product or service may be based on hardware, software, or other components from third parties. The use may be regulated through e.g. licences, contracts, or terms of use. The specific terms may define limitations and conditions of commercial use. Relying on solutions from third parties creates dependencies, uncertainty, and potential barriers for commercialisation as well as further development. Securing the rights to use these solutions is crucial as well as assessing the risks that come with choosing a specific solution, e.g. in terms of long-term availability.

What should I consider when choosing an entity for my business?

The available options for founding and running a legal entity vary between countries. The main discriminatory element is between a company’s limited or unlimited liability: in the first instance the liability of the company does not go beyond the investments by stakeholders, which represents the company’s own capital, and a sort of “assurance” to both potential creditors of the company, and to the stakeholders themselves. This is, as the name calls, not the case for the company founded and operating in a regime of an unlimited liability, which is often less used.

Beyond the legal regime, it can be said that in general many jurisdictions have encouraging conditions for young technical startups (such as favourable tax regimes, financing and even acceleration/incubation support schemes).

Someone wants to use/buy my solution. What are my options?

Collaborations can imply different solutions: from funding an entity in partnership, to selling/ licensing the solution.  All these have different pros and cons, and are even country specific, so it is important to explore which one is the most beneficial for the concrete business case.

The simplest solution here is also the most used one-namely a license. Such agreements vary in content, notably with regards to extent and exclusivity of use of the license.

(For more details see: https://intellectual-property-helpdesk.ec.europa.eu/regional-helpdesks/european-ip-helpdesk/europe-frequently-asked-questions_en#Licences)

I want to spin-off. What are the legal aspects?

The first step in such direction is to contact the technology transfer and innovation office of your research institution and inquire as to your rights and duties as an employee/student, as well as what kind of internal support (financial and/or material) you could receive in the new venture. Alternatively, the creation of a start-up can take place outside of a relationship with the university. In either case, there are common points to be considered such as legal aspects, market positioning etc.

What is intellectual property (and IP rights)?

The World Intellectual Property Organization defines intellectual property (IP) as “Products of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works, any symbols, names, images and designs used in commerce.”

In practice this means that a series of IP rights (“IPR”, e.g., trademarks, patents, copyright etc.) and other tools (i.e. regimes around confidentiality and NDAs) exist with the aim to protect valuable assets, in an attempt to establish a middle point between their fruitful utilisation on behalf of the right holder on one hand, and the interest of the general public on the other. These IP rights dictate rules on how to exploit the assets and maximise their value.

What is meant by background, foreground, and side ground IP?

The definitions may vary, and is important to look for the “authentic interpretation” i.e., the one used by the specific organisations-ESA, EC, etc. Generally, however, the following guidelines can be used:

Background IP is the IP created before, and thus outside, of the framework of a project/collaboration which is relevant for the project/collaboration.

Foreground IP is the IP created within the project/collaboration.

Sideground IP is IP developed by one of the partners but without using project background and for purposes unrelated to those of the collaboration.

To illustrate the above: Company A enters a collaboration with company B to commercialise a product. Company A is a software developer, and company B is a business consultant helping the commercialisation phase. In this case, the background IP is the software developed by Company A, as well as the business know-how of Company B. The foreground IP is the final software developed in the collaboration. An instance for sideground IP is the other software packages in the portfolio of Company A which are not concerned related to the collaboration with Company B.

How are IP rights helping me to protect my EO assets?

Different IP can be employed to make sure your assets benefit you fully. Below you can find information on the most used IP rights for EO solutions.

  • Copyright protects expression of ideas resulting in creative works. This includes computer programs and some types of databases. In the EU, copyright exists since the creation of the work and does not require further registration.
  • Trademarks are distinguishable and descriptive signs, mostly words and logos but also designs, letters, numerals, colours, etc., aiming to distinguish a company or a service/product and make them recognisable for the users. Unlike copyright, trademarks require prior registration.
    An example of trademark in the EO world could be a name or a logo of a service/product/company.
  • Patents are an appropriate tool for protecting technological inventions, both products and processes (software and hardware). Patent protection usually lasts for 20 years and foresees disclosure of the details for the invention. In an aim to balance the benefits and the disadvantages of a patent, oftentimes the patentable information is rather protected by a “trade secret”.

Trade secrets are a suitable mean for protecting a range of information (know-how, technical and other inventions, business plans, etc.) by keeping their details confidential. Trade secrets are not registrable as such, but there may be some requirements and formalities necessary to keep the confidentiality around them, e.g., NDAs.

What is the role of confidentiality in protecting EO solutions?

Common sense is to be employed when considering sensitive matters, as the necessary measures vary through the different situations when disclosure of information is inevitable and potentially profitable– e.g. in discussing partnerships, investments, licensing. Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) can be a useful tool, preventing a counterparty to disclose and make use of certain information acquired.

(For more info on confidentiality, consult: https://www.epo.org/learning/materials/inventors-handbook/disclosure.html )

What are my IP rights during and after a Horizon 2020/Horizon Europe partnership?

The IP rights in a Horizon H2020 project are generally regarded in the AMGA and in the consortium agreement. Before exploiting an asset which is considered as foreground IP, i.e. a result of a project, one must make sure to have all the rights to do so, and that these do not conflict with the legitimate interest of other partners.

(For more info on IP in H2020 projects, see: https://intellectual-property-helpdesk.ec.europa.eu/regional-helpdesks/european-ip-helpdesk/europe-frequently-asked-questions_en#Faq_on_Horizon_2020)

I work for an institution, what are my IP rights as a creator/inventor?

The regime of intellectual property of work created under an employment/research contract, and/or dictated by law varies between the different jurisdictions. It is hence essential to know what provisions apply in the concrete case, and what are the implications for the repatriation of the IP rights between the employer/institution and employee/creator-inventor.

How do I get funding for my EO solution?

Like any other business, depending on development stage, targeted markets, sectors, and users, as well as strategic fit to the portfolio of private and public investors various options exist. If a business cannot yet generate enough revenue to fund the development of the solution, funding or investment can be secured from e.g. funding programmes, Angel Investors, Venture Capital firms, corporate investors, acceleration programmes, or financial institutions. Opportunities may be linked to the specific sector or region targeted, to the type of technology used, or to the space sector as such. An overview of investment and funding opportunities is provided by e-shape’s Investment & Funding navigator.

How is my IP influenced by a potential investment/funding?

When receiving public funding or private investment, the IP regime could become part of contractual agreements, which then imply limitations of its further use, in view of preserving the value of the portfolio.

How are investment and funding influenced by IP?

The value of one’s IP is directly tied to the level of investment it may trigger, as well as its subsequent exploitation. It is thus common for investors to request an IP audit for potential investees, but it is also a custom for companies to request one which is later used as a proof of value during pitching before investors.

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