Healthcare Innovation – IP and Confidentiality

As a healthcare innovation company – one looking to launch a product onto the market or get it approved by the NHS – your intellectual property (IP) is the bedrock of your success. If you’re just starting out, it’s time get to grips with how to protect your ideas and designs, as well as calculating how much it is going to cost you. This article aims to set out the role that confidentiality plays alongside IP protection.

Healthcare Innovation - IP and Confidentiality

A summary of IP rights (IPR)

While some types of IPR are automatically applied to something you create, others must be registered. There are various cost implications for each, as well as longevity and level of protection. You will probably find that you have the need to use more than one IPR for different stages of product development and for different reasons – each has strengths and weaknesses that can be used in your favour.

The strongest types of protection must to be applied for and approved to take force, so there is a financial implication up front as well as for defending your rights if they are infringed. These are Patents, Registered Design Rights and Trademarks. Patents are the most robust type of IP, but cannot protect ideas. Design Rights are excellent for protecting developing products, while Trademarks assist with market recognition.

In addition Copyright and Unregistered Design Right are very useful tools for protecting your designs, written materials and even some types of software. These are both automatic rights – that is, they don’t have to be registered. While this is effectively free, defending them will incur costs.

When it comes to considering how best to protect your creations and ideas, it’s always going to be a balance between what you need and what you can afford

Confidentiality agreements (NDAs/CDAs)

Another type of protection is confidentiality, which is a common law duty of confidence that protects your know-how and trade secrets.

It’s advisable to seek a confidentiality agreement prior to discussing your ideas outside of your company or partners – for example, if you need to consult the opinions of an expert clinician or prototype specialist. So for example, you might use confidentiality if your idea is precious but does not yet have the potential to be secured by a patent.

  • Also known as a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) or confidential disclosure agreement (CDA)
  • Protects you at the initial discussion stage
  • Often drawn up by a specialist solicitor
  • Can mutually protect the inventors interests and the third party
  • Advisable to keep records of meetings and information exchanges
  • The party subject to the NDA cannot disclose your trade secrets within the specified duration of the agreement

IP agreements

There may be times when you decide to collaborate with large organisations like the NHS to develop a product or service. We recommend that you take appropriate legal counsel and the steps necessary to fully understand the implications of IP agreements on the work you collaborate on. An agreement of this type will include, for example:

  • The responsibilities of both parties
  • Who is bringing what to the project
  • Remuneration

For more information

The message to take away is that the array of IP rights is a toolkit that can be used to your advantage. It’s beneficial to call in an IP expert to discuss any issues you might have, or for advice on particular challenges you are not sure how to overcome using IP rights.

Healthcare innovators based or working in Greater Manchester can access professional support under the Innovation Nexus initiative. Run by the Greater Manchester Academic Health Science Network (GM AHSN) and partners in the NHS and the private sector, the initiative provides support to deliver new healthcare products and services within the region.

Visit for more details and to contact an advisor. Specific details about IP are available on the Innovation Nexus IP Essentials for Companies page.

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