Centria, Finland's most international university of applied sciences, is aiming to provide businesses in the region with increased access to the intellectual property and innovations produced in its research and development projects. As an IPR and legal partner, Kolster helped Centria establish clear IPR practices and clarify their commercialisation strategy.
Centria University of Applied Sciences operates within three regions in Finland – Ostrobothnia, Central Ostrobothnia, and Northern Ostrobothnia – and is an important force in both regional and international research, development, and innovation projects. There are some hundred applied research projects underway each year, bringing in around five million euros of external funding annually. The largest public funders of R&D projects are the EU, Business Finland, regional councils, and ELY Centres.
“Centria is a major regional developer in the Pietarsaari, Kokkola, and Ylivieska areas. On the Finnish scale, we are a small institution, but in terms of R&D operations, we are bigger and more international than our size would suggest,” says Research & Development Manager Johanna Jansson, who leads Centria’s Entrepreneurship and wellbeing research team.
Centria has a strong tradition of active cooperation with companies. Regional businesses are actively involved in planning, implementing and financing projects that develop business and exports.
“This collaborative model ensures that new knowledge and innovations will be quickly available for companies and communities in the region. We are a link between business and research. A significant part of Centria’s R&D operations aim at developing regional entrepreneurship and SMEs.”
Managing such an extensive range of projects requires a lot of agreements and negotiations between the different parties, partners, and investors. Johanna Jansson has been in charge of the development and coordination of matters related to contract law and intellectual property rights since 2018. Around the same time, Centria began developing its IPR and agreement management and practices to ensure consistency and transparency between the four R&D teams.
“We soon realised that we also needed external expert advice on this, as we had a lot of questions related to IPR, especially in software development. Kolster’s Hannes Kankaanpää’s competence profile and previous experience were a good match to our needs. Getting started with this collaboration we quickly noticed it was the right fit, both organisationally and personally. Hannes understands the everyday challenges of Centria’s R&D operations really well, and we have had a lot of fruitful discussion,” Johanna Jansson says. This collaboration has now been going on for a couple of years.
Research & Development Manager Johanna Jansson from Centria’s Entrepreneurship and wellbeing research team and Counsel Hannes Kankaanpää from Kolster
The first major cooperation project was creating in-house guidelines for unified practices for Centria’s software development, the use of open source code, and intellectual property.
“Digitalisation is an important theme in all four of Centria’s R&D teams. It’s a key part of many projects, and they may involve coding and software development. Before this we didn’t have unified practices or recommendations, for example, on how open source code should be used, how software should be licensed, or how these are organised in practice,” Jansson explains.
Centria’s own digitalisation experts had already identified the need for unified guidelines and recommendations. Decisions and clarifications were needed on the practices for different situations, depending on whether the software was developed in-house, as part of a client project, or under public funding.
“Kolster and Hannes helped us put the identified concerns into words and formulate the policies into clear guidelines. Hannes also provided us with his insights on good practices. Now we have clear guidelines for in-house practices to show all those who handle software in our R&D projects and in their studies.”
The guidelines provide support both for Centria’s 300 employees and for students, but they are especially important for the approximately hundred people working in the various R&D teams focusing on research and development projects in chemistry and bioeconomy, production technology, digitalisation, and entrepreneurship and wellbeing.
The guidelines also include a practice where Centria signs a transfer of rights agreement with all its employees. This means that the rights of any software developed during employment are transferred to Centria. This helps Centria ensure that it will be able to use all software in its projects, for example through licensing.
General practices have also been developed by creating clear agreement templates for situations where Centria is providing its partners with access to IPR assets created during projects or transfers the ownership of such assets.
“Kolster has helped us refine our existing agreement templates, and we have also introduced some new agreement practices for IPR commercialisation. Centria now has two agreement templates for commercialising intellectual property rights, one for granting a license and one for transferring ownership to specific IP rights," Jansson says.
Expert advice has also been needed on legal issues and in agreement negotiations, especially when Centria is involved in large consortia, such as the EU-funded Horizon projects. In consortia, it is important to strike a balance between the legal interests of the various parties involved. At the same time, any conditions set by the funders must be met and the usability of the results to benefit local businesses must be ensured.
“Hannes has provided legal support for Centria in these negotiations. He has helped in interpreting the consortium agreements and brought significant issues to our attention. When working with large international companies and research institutes, Centria is a small party, but we need to understand what we are committing to and what the agreements mean for us in practice.”
In addition to unified practices and agreement templates, Centria has also actively considered its own strategy for the commercialisation of IPR in cooperation with Kolster during this autumn. These considerations were recently turned into a guideline for the commercialisation of R&D project results to complement Centria’s strategy for the coming years.
“The guideline can be used to better identify intellectual property created during projects. We want to be able to use these assets to benefit the region. Kolster has helped us consider how we can best make the assets available to local businesses, taking into account the requirements of any agreements and funding,” Jansson explains.
“At the same time, we have clarified to ourselves what can be achieved in Centria’s R&D projects, what our partner companies can expect from projects, and how we can communicate these issues clearly to both partners and personnel.”
Centria has also wanted to dispel the myth that the results of publicly funded projects cannot be commercialised.
“It’s a deeply ingrained way of thinking that public funding cannot be used for the benefit of private companies. Our commercialisation strategy helps dispel this myth and clarifies the practices that can be used to commercialise IPR in the right way and at the right time.”
The goal of Centria’s strategy is to ensure that projects never end up in a situation where people realise afterwards that they should have done something differently or that the end result ended up being something that was not expected.
“Understanding how and when intellectual property rights are created, who gets them, and how they can be transferred allows us to serve the region and its economy in the best possible way.”
The economy of the Centria region is dominated by primary production, construction and boat building, chemical and bioeconomy, and the metal industry. The Kokkola Industrial Park area in Kokkola, the Ylivieska wood cluster, and the Alholma area in Pietarsaari employ more than 8,000 people and have a total turnover of over 4 billion euros. A significant part of production in the region is exported. Centria plays an important role in the development of business and working life, and IPR plays an important role in R&D projects.
“IPR strengthens the effectiveness of projects, when we’re able to manage our assets correctly, making the most of them. At their best, they enable the development of new business and support internationalisation,” Jansson says.
Centria’s R&D teams are currently working on some very promising projects to support the internationalisation of companies and to create new business opportunities. They also recently received 475,000 euros of special funding from the Ministry of Education and Culture for their Chemistry for Circular Economy project. In addition to circular economy, a significant research area in the Chemistry and bioeconomy team is the utilisation of high-value compounds in biomasses, such as berries, plants, leaves, and trees, which are in high demand on the global market in the food, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical industries.
The Production technology team focuses primarily on robotics, automation, computer vision, and 3D technology projects. There is also a lot of expertise in new technologies in wood construction. Current projects include RoboSol and Serviisi, which focus on the utilisation of new generation robotics and smart automation in companies.
In the Entrepreneurship and wellbeing team, current themes include wellness technologies such as the use of care robotics in the social and health care sector and nature-assisted wellbeing, Green Care. Another emerging theme is cultural wellbeing, which is related to creating wellbeing through culture.
One fourth of the R&D projects are international projects, and Centria can rightly be called the most international university of applied sciences in Finland. Of Centria’s three thousand students, 600–700 are foreign degree students representing 40 different nationalities. It has 130 partner institutions and 100 incoming or outgoing exchange students each year. Centria is also one of Finland’s most prominent educational exporters with nearly 700,000 euros in education exports.
A broad and increasingly diverse and international range of projects has created the need for continuous legal consultation. The positive experience of IPR and legal support has given Centria the confidence to build on the existing cooperation. In 2021, Centria and Kolster will expand their collaboration with a framework agreement, as Centria reserves their “own R&D lawyer” as an in-house service.
“We have seen a clear need for ongoing legal consultation. The agreement ensures that we receive legal support for everyday work whenever we need it, and we always feel that our communications are easy and confidential,” Jansson describes.
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