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International Development Research @ Cambridge


Aims and goals

The purpose of IPACST, a major, three-year international and interdisciplinary research project, is to enhance the understanding of Intellectual Property (IP) in relation to sustainable businesses, to create a bridge in the fields of sustainability and IP research, and advise stakeholders, such as inventors, business leaders, funding agencies and policymakers choose appropriate IP models that accelerate sustainability transitions.

To contribute to a comprehensive understanding of IP models for sustainability transitions the project addresses the following research questions:

  1. Which IP models do exist of relevance for sustainability transitions (1a) and how can they be typologized (e.g. from closed to completely open) (1b)?
  2. Which IP models are employed by sustainable businesses and how do they match with sustainable business models (2a)? What is the role (inhibiting, stimulating) of IP models in adopting sustainable business models (2b)?
  3. How do different types of IP models and business models accelerate (or prevent) the development, adoption and diffusion of sustainable innovations (3a)? Under what conditions (technological, regulatory, cultural, demand-supply factors, infrastructures) do different IP models best accelerate sustainability transitions (3b)?
  4. What can we learn from best practice in sustainable businesses (4a)? Which successful combinations of IP and sustainable business models exist (4b)? What are ideal combinations of sustainable business models and underlying IP models (4c)?

The project is financially supported by the Belmont Forum and NORFACE Joint Research Programme on Transformations to Sustainability, which is co-funded by DLR/BMBF, GCRF, ESRC, VR, and the European Commission through Horizon 2020.


Impact and major beneficiaries

The transition to global sustainable development is an urgent challenge. In 2015, countries globally adopted the Sustainable Development Goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda. Effective transitions to sustainability require innovations with complex diffusion and adoption processes. The accompanied evolutionary technology development processes involve complex and intertwined IP related issues.

IP models, such as licensing or open access, play an important role in developing, sharing and diffusing sustainable innovation. The choice of the ‘right’ IP model that leads to sustainable impact, however, depends on a range of yet insufficiently understood contextual factors, such as level of economic development, infrastructure, type of technology, legislative framework, etc. IP is one of the regulatory elements that may help diffuse or prevent sustainable innovations over time. Providing insights on the role of IP on sustainability transitions thus appears essential for meeting the urgent challenge of transition to global sustainable development as required by the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

IPACST will offer a differentiated, evidence-based view by investigating how and under which circumstances different IP models coexist with sustainable business models, and accelerate or rather delay the development and diffusion of sustainable innovations, technologies and products more broadly.




For more details and updates about the project, please visit the project website.

Welcome to Cambridge Global Challenges

Cambridge Global Challenges is the Interdisciplinary Research Centre (IRC) of the University of Cambridge that aims to enhance the contribution of its research towards addressing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, with a particular focus on the poorest half of the world’s population.


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