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Washington State University Graduate School

Transitioning from Research to Intellectual Property

By Sita Pappu & Anson Fatland

The Office of Commercialization can help you patent and license technologies or start a company. Here are a few tips on when and how you should work with the office to move your research from the lab to the world.

Q: I think my research has some commercial potential, what should I do?

First, you’ll need to contact the Office of Commercialization. A technology manager will have a preliminary conversation with you to figure out if you should move to the next step of disclosing your invention. Once the invention is disclosed, the technology officer will guide you through the next steps.

Contact the Office of Commercialization:

Disclosure form:

Q: How is an invention determined as protectable?

An invention is considered protectable or patentable based on the following criteria:

  • How novel, obvious and enabled is your invention?
    • Novelty- Have you publicly disclosed or talked about it?
    • Obviousness- Can someone in your field come up with the same invention based on what is available in the literature?
    • Enablement- are you at a point where you can describe in detail to others how to make and use your invention?

Q: Once my invention is determined as protectable, what are the next steps?

At this point, your invention is going to be classified as a specific category of intellectual property. Intellectual property is defined as “anything under the sun that is made by man.” Here are the categories that may relate to your invention:

  • Patents: A patent protects practical inventions in the “useful arts.” There are three types of patents:
    • Utility patents apply to new and useful processes, machines, articles of manufacture, compositions of matters, or any new and useful improvements thereof.
    • Design patents apply to new, original, and ornamental designs for manufactured things.
    • Plant patents apply to asexually reproduced, distinct and new varieties of plants (for sexually reproduced variations, see Plant Variety Protection below).
  • Copyrights: A copyright protects “works of authorship,” which includes writings, musical compositions, dramatic works, paintings, choreography, paintings, sculptures, motion pictures, photographs, audio recording, and architecture. A copyright may also be appropriate for software in certain circumstances.
  • Plant Variety Protection: A Plant Variety Protection (“PVP”) can protect new varieties of plants that a cultivator developed through sexual reproduction (by seed) or tuber-propagation. Bacteria and fungi are specifically excluded.

The Office of Commercialization will determine which category best suits your invention, and then proceed with the next steps in an evaluation, like determining commercial potential and the market niche.

Once those have been determined, the Office of Commercialization comes up with a strategy and plan on the patent process based on the above criteria.  A provisional patent application is typically filed as a starting point which acts as a placeholder, based on which other applications (a non-provisional US patent application and/or a PCT international application) are filed 12 months later.

Patenting an invention is a time-consuming and expensive process. Below is a rough timeline and diagram of the intellectual property protection process for the U.S.

Patenting in foreign countries can take much longer. Please also visit for more information and to contact technology managers for more information on how we can help you.


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