How CERN intellectual property helps entrepreneurship

On World Intellectual Property Day 2021, see how intellectual property lies at the core of successful knowledge transfer at CERN


Distributed I/O Tier System Board layout.
Distributed I/O Tier System Board layout. Released under CERN’s Open Hardware Licence, this generic, multipurpose electronic system was originally developed for the CERN accelerator complex in collaboration with external companies. (Image: CERN)

The novel technologies and expertise developed at CERN can be applied to fields other than high-energy physics. World Intellectual Property Day, observed annually on 26 April, is an opportunity to highlight how intellectual property (IP) is at the core of transferring unique CERN knowledge to its industrial and institutional partners, from large, long-standing companies to recent start-ups.

In order to share its knowledge, CERN encourages the creation of spin-offs – companies based, partially or wholly, on CERN technologies – and has adopted a dedicated spin-off policy in 2018. One such company is PlanetWatch. Founded in 2020, this spin-off bases its air-quality data-analysis activities on C2MON, a data-acquisition framework developed at CERN.

CERN also offers special licensing opportunities to promote the use of CERN technology in existing start-ups. These technologies range from innovative detector technologies to complex software, from radiation-hardened components to robotic platforms. As Marco Silari, section leader in the Radiation Protection group, explains “CERN technology can become much more than originally planned”. Together with his team, he developed several detector technologies now used by start-ups and companies around Europe. The complete list of current start-ups & spin-offs using CERN technology & know-how is available here.

Depending on the nature of the technology and its application, it may benefit from Open Source licencing. This is the case for the White Rabbit technology – a tool used to provide control and data-acquisition systems with sub-nanosecond accuracy and a synchronisation precision of a few picoseconds – available on CERN’s Open Hardware Repository under the CERN Open Hardware Licence, to a large user community.

Intellectual property enables successful knowledge transfer, ensuring the application of CERN technology and expertise in a way that aligns with CERN’s values, and maximises their societal impact. CERN’s policy is to disseminate its technologies as widely as possible to industrial and institutional partners within its Member States.