MYTH: Social science cannot be commercialised because it is substantially different from science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) research, which is more suited to commercialisation.
REALITY: Although commercialisation of social science is currently less common than for the STEM disciplines, many universities have achieved successful business activities based on social science. One of the purposes of this guide is to encourage and inspire more social scientists to consider opportunities to commercialise their work.
MYTH: Business and government have no commercial appetite or demand for the output of social science research.
REALITY: There are many areas of social science which have proven to be extremely valuable commercially, including ones which might not be obvious at first glance. For example, commercialisation initiatives based on healthcare and wellbeing research have enjoyed success both in the UK and abroad; manufacturing flows and educational toolkits are other examples where there are demonstrable commercial applications for social science.
MYTH: Social science research cannot be protected by Intellectual Property.
REALITY: Social science insights and artefacts do fall under Intellectual Property rules. There are several effective ways to safely mobilise your intellectual property, and different approaches will be appropriate for different kinds of IP. Patents are one option among many others. You should speak to your impact acceleration account/knowledge exchange/commercialisation/tech transfer teams at your institution to learn if outputs from your research are worth protecting under IP. For more information and guidance about intellectual property, please see our section on intellectual assets and property.
MYTH: In order to commercialise my research, I have to become a businessperson.
REALITY: A consensus view from universities and research institutes is that a social scientist doesn’t need to be a businessperson to commercialise research; business engagement offices provide the requisite knowledge and experience to launch and sustain a research-based business, and there are multiple routes to commercialisation which do not require the creation of a new business (e.g. licensing and consultancy).
MYTH: Where social science research is commercialised, it can only be applied in limited circumstances and is not scalable for wider application.
REALITY: Not every instance of commercialisation requires a full-scale spinout company. An approach to commercialisation should be chosen which aligns well with the real marketplace needs. For some scenarios, licensing and consultancy make the most sense. Over time, these approaches can be optimised, developed and expanded if desired – but some efforts to do not reach large scale – and this may be perfectly acceptable depending on needs. The key is to understand the options available for commercialising, learn how to talk about and sell your work and to act upon opportunities to create sustainable impact from your research.