Routes to sustainable impact

What does sustainable impact look like in the social sciences?

In the social sciences, commercialising research involves taking the data, insights, and knowledge derived from research and applying them to practical, commercial applications to generate revenue. This could be done by developing a form of intellectual property (IP) as a private, not-for-profit, or community interest company. 

Visit our case studies and examples page to see our social sciences research in action.

Types of IP/products

Intellectual property (IP) can be described as creations of the mind, for example, technical inventions, literary and artistic works, software, designs, symbols, and names used in business. The core concept of the IP system is that certain products of human creativity should attract similar legal rights to those applying to physical assets. IP is protected in law by, for example, patents, copyright, and trademarks. In the University context, IP is usually embodied in the outcomes of research. It typically falls into two main categories: Inventions which can be protected by patent, and Software which is protected under copyright law.

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Researchers are motivated to undertake consultancy work for a variety of reasons, ranging from the desire to see their expertise applied to new challenges outside the spheres of teaching and research, to opportunities to build relationships that may lead to downstream research funding and financial benefits personally or for the Faculty. 

  • Use expertise outside of academia  
  • Build new relationships with external organisations  
  • May result in more funding for research or for the faculty  

For more information, visit the University's consulting support webpages.

Databases and algorithms play an increasing role in creative production and consumption.

There are two types of intellectual property protection for databases: sui generis database rights (or just ‘database rights’) and copyright. Both are automatic, unregistered rights that allow the owner to control certain uses of their databases.

As an intellectual property asset, algorithms are usually proprietary, which means programmers or the companies they work for reserve the rights to use, modify, or share these algorithms.

A licence is an agreement between you as the IP right owner and another party. It grants them permission to do something that would be an infringement of the rights without the licence.

IP can be “licensed-out” or “licensed-in”. You can “license-out” to another company in return for a fee. You can “license-in” if you want to use another company’s IP to develop your own business and products. The person granting the licence is usually called the licensor, and the person receiving the licence is usually called the licensee. There may be more than one licensor or more than one licensee in a licence agreement.

This type of IP can be:

  • Profit-making or social enterprise  
  • Led by your or a team  

For more information, please visit the Licensing IP at Oxford web pages.

Services Intellectual Property means all Intellectual Property Rights that are created, developed, or arise out of the course of carrying out a service.

Software intellectual property, also known as software IP, is a computer code or program that is protected by law against copying, theft, or other use that is not permitted by the owner. Find out more about software and advice about patents and copyrights at Oxford University Innovation.

Types of ventures

If you have an idea which has come from your research and you are looking for ways to make an impact with it, there are numerous options to consider. Your venture could be profit making, not for profit (social enterprise) or a mechanism for returning research funding back to your Faculty. 

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For information about setting up a profit making venture, visit Oxford University Innovation webpages for guidance on starting a company and setting up a spinout company.

Social ventures are companies that combine the impact-centric agenda of a charity with the profit generation strategies of a business. How this is achieved differs from company to company. Fundamental to all social ventures is the concept of complementing the profitability goal at the core of mainstream businesses with an impact mission focused on enacting positive societal, environmental or cultural change. 

A social enterprise is just like any other business – it aims to make a profit. What sets them apart from traditional businesses is what they do with their profits. They are driven by a mission to make the world a better place and so re-invest profits or donate them to create social or environmental change.

Further helpful guidance is available on the Oxford University Innovation webpages:

Oxford University Innovation - business models 

OUI Debunking social enterprise myths 

How OUI does social ventures and what they are 

OUI Social venture case studies  

Social Enterprise | EnSpire Oxford 

A Community Interest Company (CIC) is a limited company, with a company structure where a community that you will benefit is defined. This could be people in a particular geographical area or those with particular characteristics. You need to state how you will benefit this community (i.e. what activities, services, or products you will deliver that will benefit them) and how you will use any surpluses/profits. 

Find out more at What’s the difference between a CIC and a social enterprise? – Make An Impact CIC 


Useful links and information

Who can help me?

If you are interested to learn more about opportunities to engage with Oxford social sciences researchers - whether in research collaboration, matters relating to public policy, business collaboration, or public and community engagement - please get in touch below: