Annual Review 2020

Highlighting the activities of Oxford University Innovation


The Ops team forms the very heart of OUI. Without the critical functions the team executes, blood would not flow to the rest of the organisation.

A core activity is managing all the patents filed by OUI to protect University IP. Owing to the breadth and depth of Oxford’s research base, OUI has one of the largest patent portfolios in the UK, with over 6,000 currently active patents. Without the protection those patents offer, our entire technology and spinout portfolio would lack the foundations on which to do business.

“Looking after the patent once it has been filed entails checking annual renewals, managing costs and collaborating with patent agents directly,” explains Kate Spanchak, Patent and Licence Administrator, who has personally managed over 3,500 of our patents in her 10 years at OUI. “It’s very admin orientated but ensures the smooth handling of a patent. A typical month can look like 250 actions and associated data entry to maintain the portfolio.”

While some of the inventions covered by the patents may appear niche or obscure, others can be world saving. Naomi Norrie, a Team Administrator who recently added patent triaging to her duties, recently found herself part of the University-wide effort to tackle COVID-19.

Quality and Quantity

“There have been so many IP forms related to COVID-19 in recent months that it’s been tough keeping up,” said Naomi. “But one of those which landed on my desk covered the vaccine. Seeing that on the news weeks later and knowing that I played a small part in it through supporting the intellectual property was great.”

The work of people like Naomi and Alison Amoss, Licence Administrator, who manages OUI’s central database of licences, is foundational to what the Operations team delivers for the rest of OUI. Mairi Gibbs, Head of Operations, said that if these deals failed to make it onto the database, people wouldn’t get paid. Adam Stoten, Chief Operating Officer, highlighted the sheer volume of deals Alison handles, calling it amazing and that amount and breadth of deals showcases what OUI does. “Other tech transfer officers fall off their chairs when they hear about our volume,” added Mairi.

It’s not only volume that the Ops team concern themselves with, but the quality of the deals OUI signs. Rosalind French, Post Deal Relationship Manager, has been looking to identify the most suitable candidates for an Oxford licence through grading deals within the licensed portfolio.

“The scoring methodology takes into account three dimensions of trust,” explained Ros. “Competence (i.e. The ability the organisation has the capability to do what it says), integrity, and reliability.”

This ranking of trust supplements four criteria in Ros’ work which examines a licensee’s credit-worthiness, overall relationship, plan for the technology, and quality of communication. Her work has allowed OUI to take a more data-driven approach to handling licensees. Licensees that are shown to be dependable can be more or less relied upon to be a good fit for Oxford technologies. Those who rank lower will require closer monitoring. This allows Ops to be more focused and streamlined in handling our licensees.

Working smoothly under Lockdown

The Ops team have also been central to OUI’s ability to work smoothly under lockdown. Part of this has been expanding use of technologies such as Docusign to allow for electronic signatures and online IP forms. Another part has been OUI’s IT infrastructure.

“The best part of the job for me lately is how our work in implementing Office 365 made for a seamless transition into the COVID-19 era,” said Lasse Thomsen, Head of IT. “We also supported the installation of our financial system to better enable our finance colleagues to process invoices, while the great encryption we’ve installed has kept our colleagues and their work safe. We’ve taken COVID on the chin and it’s worked out really well.”

One very practical part of Ops’ contribution, however, has come from OUI’s Facilities Manager, Phil Priest.

“Pre-COVID, I managed one workplace. Now I’m managing 75 workplaces,” said Phil.

OUI trialled closing the office one Tuesday back in March for one day, and we haven’t been back since. Phil was integral in getting everyone what they needed to work from home – driving around the extended Oxfordshire area delivering office chairs and monitors to OUI staff. He has been frequently running cheques from finance to the bank during lockdown, as well as joining networks and roundtable discussions on best practice to ensure we’re doing the right thing in the management of the OUI building, which under Phil’s guidance has been rated one of the most environmentally friendly parts of Oxford University.

“I’ve also been ensuring everyone stays sane during lockdown,” said Phil, referring to OUI’s Mental Health First Aiders programme, of which Phil is a member.

“It’s been a challenging time for the Ops team,” added Amanda Wallace, Project Co-ordinator. “We’ve been checking in how we can support each other practically and emotionally.”

Amanda and others in the Ops team have been working to prepare data for the switch over to Atlas, the company’s new CRM system due for launch in the coming months. Atlas has been a pan-organisation effort, with the whole company playing some role in shaping it.

“My year was full of Atlas, then it was full of lockdown,” said Mairi, who led both on the Atlas project and OUI’s workplace response to COVID-19. “We had a strategy team working on what decisions we need to make when, but nobody had a blueprint for how we responded to the pandemic. We ended up experimenting with a day of working from home one week in March, and then lockdown started. It was a seismic change in the way we work, and I’m very proud of how smoothly it went.”

Operations Stats:

  • Highest university PCT filer in Europe
  • Fourth biggest UK applicant of PCT filings
  • 4793 patents under management


A core activity is managing all the patents from the University. Owing to the breadth and depth of Oxford’s research base, the University has one of the largest patent portfolios in the UK.