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Protection to boost innovation

The CEA recently published its intellectual property charter developed for its industry partners. Objectives: present the key points of its strategy implemented to protect and exploit R&D results to enhance the competitiveness, technological sovereignty and technology transfers of its partners. A strategy that has proven its worth for more than 20 years. Here is the ‘inside story’ from two experts at the CEA: Florence Touïtou-Durand, Director of Legal Affairs & Dispute Reconciliation, and Corinne Hueber-Saintot, Director of Business Development.

Published on 7 April 2022

Why and how does the CEA protect its innovations and results in R&D?

Corinne Hueber-Saintot: Thanks to its extensive research activities with partners, the CEA was able to implement an intellectual property (IP) strategy more than 20 years ago, providing the framework needed to protect and exploit the results of its R&D. This R&D can be protected in various different ways depending on its nature. We prefer to protect inventions through patents, especially inventions that do not need to remain secret. We are very active in the field of patents, which is reflected in our top ranking by the French National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI) and the European Patent Office (EPO). This patent-based protection policy has made the CEA the leading research organisation in terms of the number of patents filed in France, as well as the top French organisation for patent filing in Europe; it boasted over 7,000 active patent families in early 2021 and files about 700 patents every year.

Florence Touïtou-Durand: The results of our research carry great value. The CEA has made the choice to retain ownership of the results produced by its scientists because it simplifies its task of ensuring the dissemination of technology by providing its industry partners with a solid portfolio of intellectual property rights. This not only gives them a competitive edge, but also allows them to benefit from the latest inventions to meet their needs as closely as possible. 

Corinne Hueber-Saintot: Our intellectual property strategy is also a key component in maintaining our technological sovereignty. Because we have ownership of the IP developments, because we are in control of their protection both in France and overseas, we can maintain overall control of the invention. We can control how the technology is exploited because we can decide to assign any rights through licence agreements, which can also include rights allowing our partners to assign exploitation rights to a third party if necessary. This means that we focus on promoting our own R&D within the French and European industry.

Florence Touïtou-Durand: The word ‘control’ is key here. Having control over intellectual property rights is a major issue for the CEA as a public research organisation. It is about controlling both the future of our results by making sure we can guarantee the traceability of the technologies developed, and the utilisation assigned to these technologies. Controlling the ownership of results also enables the CEA to pursue any R&D work in total independence.

What kind of added value is generated through the IP ownership strategy and how do the CEA’s industry partners benefit from it?

Corinne Hueber-Saintot: Our intellectual property strategy is founded on a virtuous circle wherein our portfolio is constantly supplied with patents and knowledge: by working with us, our partners can use our technological building blocks to develop their own R&D work. This work not only consolidates our existing technological building blocks, but also leads to the creation of new blocks. All this additional added value can be exploited by our partners in their industrial activities, while also remaining available for other applications. By retaining ownership of results, the CEA has the right to allow partners from different industrial sectors to use its IP. In turn, these partners will develop new technological building blocks, and so on and so forth. 

This virtuous circle means that the CEA can help drive the competitiveness of its industry partners, in line with its mission statement. We offer our partners protected research results that stand out from the crowd, while giving them access to our considerable portfolio of patents in a broad range of R&D fields. This gives us the means of creating entry points into different sectors. This IP approach ensures greater dissemination of technology, whether through large industry groups or SMEs and start-ups that do not always have the means to invest in R&D over long periods of time. Starting from scratch can be both costly and risky for companies.

Florence Touïtou-Durand: Because our industry partners operate in competitive sectors, we can give them a competitive edge by securing the exploitation of their research results by assigning them exclusive exploitation rights for a specified sector-product combination. The limits of these exclusive rights are defined for a fixed period of time and generally contingent to their effective exploitation, to avoid it becoming impossible to exploit knowledge in the long term and to continue research. However, we do not always recommend exclusive rights to our partners: it depends on their needs, their exploitation strategy, and their business plan.


CEA's cleanroom. © A. Aubert / CEA

Why have you published an intellectual property charter?

Corinne Hueber-Saintot: We wrote this charter to explain our defining principles and approach to IP in an informative manner to all of our industry partners. We wanted to share how much we believe that our practices are key to guaranteeing their strategic interests and our capacity for innovation, in line with our mission statement. 

A section of our IP charter also focuses on start-ups. The CEA wants to support the creation of start-ups as much as it can on the basis of its technologies. Here, our principles of IP protection are rather similar to those that applied to our other partners. However, we make sure that the exploitation strategies reflect the economic reality of start-ups which often need time to develop their products and build up their reputation.

Florence Touïtou-Durand: This IP charter sets out to explain why and how we protect the results of our research, and more specifically why we file patents, how we manage our patent portfolio, how we implement this approach with our partners, and how we can promote inventions. Our objective is also to describe the different ways of exploiting R&D results within the legal framework that governs us. For this reason, our IP charter details the key fundamental principles that allow us to ensure technological sovereignty while remaining competitive. Yet we do not lose sight of the fact that we must adapt our exploitation rules to the specific applications our partners intend to develop. In short, it is our mission to ensure the success of technology transfers to the industry.

Download CEA's intellectual property charter

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