Episode 4 : e-lucid: developing an innovative express licensing platform - Transcript

In the fourth episode of this podcast series, UCLB’s Director of Engineering and Physical Sciences, Dr Steven Schooling, is in conversation with Marina Santilli, UCLB Associate Director, Engineering & Physical Sciences about the development and scaling of UCLB’s express licensing platform e-lucid. Early in her UCLB career, Marina recognised that there was a need for more effective tools to manage the licensing of lower value IP assets such as software and materials and in this podcast they discuss the journey from creating a minimum viable solution which addressed UCLB’s initial licensing needs through to the evolution of the e-lucid platform into a tool which has been adopted by some of the world’s leading universities, technology transfer and research organisations as they seek to enhance their impact outcomes.

Available on: 



Apple Podcasts


Transcript edited for clarity and context


00:00:11:19 – 00:00:57:24

Dr. Steven Schooling

Hello, my name is Steven Schooling. I’m the director of Engineering and Physical Sciences here at UCLB. And today, in the fourth podcast of this UCLB series, I’m chatting to Marina Santilli, who is the Associate director for Engineering and Physical Sciences here at UCLB about the development by UCL Business over the past decade of an advanced express licensing platform called e-lucid, which seeks to simplify the process of IP licensing transactions, and is now used, not just by UCLB but technology transfer offices across the globe to help with securing and simplifying the process of licensing relatively low value items of intellectual property. Marina, welcome!


00:00:58:05 – 00:00:59:22

Marina Santilli

Hi Steven. Thank you.


00:00:59:22 – 00:01:02:17

Dr. Steven Schooling

My first question, really (and we’ll go through the sort of the journey we went on with e-lucid) what was the motivation for developing the platform; from a market-need perspective. What was the problem we were trying to solve? Because that’s often a question we face with new technology opportunities. What is that unmet need we basically try to satisfy?


00:01:24:24 – 00:03:19:23

Marina Santilli

Yeah, great question. The need in fact was my own need. As you know, you recruited me into a role at UCL Business, supporting the licensing of technologies, primarily coming out to computer science at the time, which naturally involved the licensing of software technologies


Some of those software technologies were more appropriate, for what we call non-exclusive licensing, which is to license the same technology over to many people, rather than licensing on bespoke terms to one licensee.


Tech transfer office typically does a lot of the exclusive licensing type, which involves a lot of legal support in negotiating terms with the other party. In the case of non-exclusive licensing, what we’re trying to do is minimise the time you spend on each one, particularly when that intellectual property is of a lower value than, for example, a new drug development. Therefore, the software that I was licensing for UCL business fit into this category of non-exclusive and relatively lower value. In the order of £100, or maybe £1000, or a couple of thousand pounds per licence.


But what I was finding was that, because we didn’t have a system to manage template agreements, I was having to enter into detailed negotiations with each licensee party, as is typical for an exclusive license. It was taking up a lot of time and it was slightly frustrating because all I wanted was effectively, a click wrap licensing, as it used to be called at the time.


I just wanted to be able to say these are my licensing terms, this is UCLB’s licensing terms, do you accept or not?  And if you do, please just sign  and send the licence back to me. But we didn’t have that. As much as I looked around what was being done in other universities, they didn’t have that either. This was back in 2008, 2009, I think.


00:03:20:03 – 00:03:23:15

Dr. Steven Schooling

So this sort of predates the Docusign and other developments that have come with those sort of platforms.


Marina Santilli

That’s correct. Yes.

00:03:26:04 – 00:04:06:22


Marina Santilli

So that was the only thing I found, that was vaguely similar, was a tool called Flip Box which itself has evolved a lot over the years, which was more of a portal for people posting their technologies available for licensing, but it wasn’t really a licensing portal. It was more about making technologies available. And I wanted my system to be something where I could actually transact a licence.

So, I think I came to you and said, “Stephen, we can do this better”; and that coming from a background in product development before coming into tech transfer, I knew how to do it and you kind of gave me some budget to get on to do it. That’s what I did – build a prototype, proof of concept system for those first software licenses.


00:04:12:05 – 00:04:52:45

Dr Stephen Schooling

So reflecting back, it was a clear need the first priority, in terms of how we did our lower value software licensing, but then, potentially seeing an opportunity, not just in software, but also into other potential assets; if that was something that could be evolved and a tool that had maybe, some wider applicability potentially. But at the heart of it was, solving a problem for us, which was a source of pain and meaning, that we were not doing as many software licenses we could, because simply, was it worth it financially?

00:04:53:01 – 00:05:34:20

Marina Santilli

Correct. And to be clear, what we built in the first instance, was a minimum viable prototype and minimum viable product, should I say, it was a prototype which fit my specific requirement, which was software licensing, and did exactly that. It allowed us to test in a relatively cheap way whether this was something that worked for us, whether it worked for the other parties. You see, there are actually three parties typically in university licensing: the tech transfer office, the licensee and the academic. The academic is often involved in those kinds of arrangements too.  Building that prototype allowed us to test out some of those theories and I’m pleased to say it worked.

00:05:35:01 – 00:05:58:24

Dr. Stephen Schooling

Could you shed a bit of light on that sort of development for us? You talked about an MVP, which is obviously, that minimum viable product is something that we often want to see as we’re trying to test out the suitability of a technology to address a market. Tell us a little bit about the first development process and then what did we learn from testing that prototype.

00:05:59:19 – 00:07:42:01

Marina Santilli

Yes. I think we started with identifying the process that we want; the workflow effectively. A licence is basically a workflow. You have a set of terms, you need somebody to accept those terms online and then you need to be able to make the product then, available. We’re talking about protecting the IP, in this case, its copyright to the software.  And ideally, you want to have the product available to be downloaded as soon as the terms of the licence have been satisfied, whether that’s accepting the terms and or paying an amount of money associated with that. And the other relevance  was to make it as automated as possible. It was all email driven.  Effectively, every stage of the process kept everybody up to date with how things were going in the approvals process, if there was one.

We brought on board a developer who had experience of building web stores, specifically with eCommerce webstores, which is what we were building, and then myself and a colleague at UCL Business set about just drafting workflows and getting those built and testing them. We didn’t have initially any kind of facility to accept payments, that’s something we agreed was too complicated for an MVP. Any licences that required payment, they were directed to make a bank transfer or send a cheque is used to happen in those days. We had the finance team as part of the workflow so they could go into an order and complete it as soon as they received the money.  That would, then, allow the software to be downloadable by the end party.


00:07:42:03 – 00:07:45:23

Dr Stephen Schooling

So semi-automated?

Marina Santilli

Semi-automated at that stage.  If there was no fee associated with it, then then then that could complete straightaway.


00:07:50:14 – 00:09:18:18

Marina Santilli

In running that prototype, we discovered there were other features that we would like that meet the needs of a tech transfer office. One of those, particularly, was that we wanted to have the ability to be involved in an approval process, so that not every order that came in would necessarily be approved by ourselves in the tech transfer office. We’d want to involve other people. So potentially the academic could be involved in deciding whether or not that applicant for licence was eligible to get the technology. That were some of the features we started thinking about in building the next iteration. More importantly, when we started using it in UCL business, other colleagues from other parts of tech transfer office said, “That’s really great! Can I use it for this kind of IP?” One of those forms of intellectual property that we were looking to automate more was the management of mature transfers agreements, MTAs. I think it was about two or three years later after the prototype, that we came up with a full set of features that we wanted to do in our second more professional edit of e-lucid and built in a whole host of additional features. We were lucky to get funded, if you remember, by the Intellectual Property Office. We won an award from the IPO


00:09:18:18 – 00:09:23:00

Dr Steven Schooling

Oh, that was that UK IPO Fast Forward Grant, wasn’t it?


00:09:23:00 – 00:09:25:14

Marina Santilli



Dr Stephen Schooling

That just gave us a little bit more of funding capacity to retain the developer. And I think, did we have some deals that helped us on the user interface again, to try to create a tool that had wider applicability.

00:09:42:19 – 00:09:59:17

Marina Santilli

Correct. And importantly, obviously the branding became important at that time. We had a logo design.  That’s obviously the fun part and started to create a brand around the technology so  within UCL and UCLB, we could promote what we were doing with it.


00:10:00:09 – 00:10:56:04

Dr Steven Schooling

That was the development of the e-lucid brand and then the ability to start to coalesce activity around the brand and built some visibility. Was it around then that we started talking about (I can’t remember it seems a while ago), the whole idea of widening out and use cases for the tool, into, for example, being a tool primarily for lower value on pieces of IP and  one of the other uses is for the software being made available for free, e.g. for academic use. (And) the ability then to use the tool to track the downloads more effectively and provide the UCL academics whose software is going up onto the platform with a mechanism to track their impact.


00:10:56:04 – 00:12:12:04

Marina Santilli

Yes, that was quite a useful feature actually, as is still the case now, a lot of software is distributed through the likes of GitHub, which has its purpose obviously for code that’s still being developed and being released on the open source licensing, but it’s not so good at being able to track the distribution. So something like a licensing tool like this, we can develop proprietary licenses which are still free of charge, but that look like academic licenses, for example – almost like an open source license except restricted to academic use or personal use only. And every person who applies has to register in a minimum way. Therefore, that gives us a count of how many licenses have been made available and also geographic dispersion so that we can track nicely how far and wide the technology has created an impact. And that’s great, obviously, for a ref. in that case studies, etc. Recently we’ve added on a new feature onto the current tool so that academics can actually log in themselves to see. They don’t have to contact their business manager anymore to find out how many licensees they have for their technology. They can look in and see that for themselves, which is great.

00:12:13:16 – 00:12:52:19

Dr Stephen Schooling

I think we’ll come back to that free use situation. I’d like to touch on the use of the platform in due course and how UCLB used it to support UCL’s effort during the pandemic, but let’s come back to that. Is there any other aspects as we went from testing that prototype through to, in a sense, developing a version that was fit, that met the needs of UCLB and therefore, could be launched in a sense to the outside world. What else was there? Any other learnings as we went on in relation to that development process?

00:12:53:15 – 00:14:48:00

Marina Santilli

Well, we added in the feature I talked about with respect to mature transfer agreements.  What was important about that was that it required a much more complicated workflow. We required approval processes to go, not internal within UCL and UCLB, but also the approving entity of the of the person requesting material. What we realised at that time is that we wanted to allow full flexibility in what we were designing and what we had signed up to was something that suited UCLB purposes. It was becoming clear to me, at that point, that this tool could be useful for other universities as well, other research organisations, and that it was obvious that they wouldn’t necessarily have to have the same process workflow that we have at UCLB.

We started to redesign the system entirely such that it was much more customisable; so that setting up a workflow was something that you weren’t constrained to a particular process, as in the UCLB process, but you could design it however you liked, with or without approvals, bringing people from, wherever you wanted, added information for shipping, for example. It just made it a much more flexible tool. We completely re-architect itin the next version.

That was based on the fact it was clear our own products had different requirements and that we were thinking, actually having had a few conversations with friendly TTOs around the UK, that we knew actually that the tool would be useful for them as well and they’d be interested in trying it out.

We didn’t want to fix it just to be UCLB workflow.

The next version we started making available to the universities, such as Edinburgh University. who are currently using it now and, and many others around the UK and, and the US, actually, in past years as well.


00:14:48:06 – 00:15:28:18

Dr Stephen Schooling

That was really at the point where we said we’ll have one will have one version of implementation of the use of platform that will be optimised for UCLB’s workflows and then we would have

the more generic platform which could then be optimised for adding how the other TTOs wanted to operate their licensing, whether it was software licensing materials, etc. and the ability therefore to in a sense have a tool that was much more generic and therefore, sort of flexible to the needs of different TTOs and different regulatory regimes as we’ve seen with the US compared to the UK.


00:15:29:04 – 00:16:14:16

Marina Santilli

Yeah, we made a point that from the beginning we were only going to offer this as software, as a service and that we didn’t need to do installed software because we knew that was going to be much more difficult to manage. That guided the architecture of the system.

We have a core tool and database which is, which is the e-lucid system.And then for every new customer, whether it’s UCLB’s own system or another university’s or even the one we built for the pandemic and their shopfronts that sit on top of the of the installation. We have a customised front end, if you like, that has the look and feel of whichever university’s shopping portals are, effectively and that sits on top of the of the SAS platform.


00:16:15:24 – 00:17:28:23

Dr Stephen Schooling

And I think we’ve been, thinking back, we developed that because we saw that we had a tool here which had potentially bigger applicability than just to UCLB. But I think those early adopters in the UK, the likes of Edinburgh and Sheffield came on board fairly soon afterwards. That flexibility that we’d architected into the platform, really came home to us and its use for UCL and UCLB during the pandemic where the tool was used to help distribute the CPAP designs that had been developed by UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering and Mercedes.

Do you want to tell us a little bit more…  because I think that was, really for me, and it’s one of the moments I look back at in the development of e-lucid, which was really seminal.  It just demonstrated the support, the usefulness of the activities and tools that UCLB have created during tech transfer to help the university with its wider mission. At that point, it is demonstrating how UCLB was helping UCL with its pandemic effort.

00:17:28:23 – 00:20:22:15

Marina Santilli

Yeah, so that was obviously an amazing story from the Institute of Healthcare Engineering team in actually developing the blueprints for this CPAP device, UCL Ventura, which was turned around in ten days, I think. So that’s a fantastic story andthere’s lots of online content about that.


We heard about it, obviously during the process and there was a requirement to try and get the designs available online so that they could be licensed to other organisations around the world that could make use of a CPAP device because obviously that the units that were making in the UK were only approved for the MHRA within the UK.

We pulled together a small team to implement over one weekend, I think, over two days, a store front specifically, for the COVID 19 effort and particularly for the CPAP device, which we were well aware that there was quite a lot of pent up demand from the requests that had been coming into the researchers about “Can we have access to the blueprints? Can we have access to the blueprints?”. We were aware that there was already a list of 100 -00 organisations that were desperate to get the blueprints.


We were also aware that our current e-lucid system was built for licensing technologies which have a much slower time scale, from the UCLB perspective. We had a platform up for quite a while, and we get the order of tens of licences every day. We were expecting to have a lot more for the CPAP, so we had to re-engineer the system slightly.


We also wanted to ensure that the academics could be involved in approving every order because that was one of the reasons they came to us in the first place, was that they wanted to make the designs available for free, but they wanted to be sure that those designs were going to people that they’d validated, to organisations that were validated. And that’s where the beauty of the e-lucid tool comes in enabling that workflow to be set up very easily.

Alongside all the development that was going on with the licensing terms and arranging the licensing ownership with Mercedes as well, the team were building a new front end to the e-lucid system such that when orders came in they could be approved in a manner easily, more easily than having a flood of emails arrive in someone’s inbox. We’ve created a dashboard that they could use.


I think within the first 48 hours, we’d had something several hundred orders and within three days, I think there were already 1000 orders on the system. And by the time I think we were three months in, we thought we had approved 2000 orders over requests from about 3000 organisations around the world. That was a great impact case study.

00:20:22:23 – 00:20:59:19

Dr Stephen Schooling

No, I think it’s a great story of how in a small way we as a TTO, helped to support UCL’s effort in that

during that period BY making available that CPAP design that led to a really great case study for UCL, and a great collaboration between UCL and Mercedes – a great validation of of our decision to invest in e-lucid and have a platform that was  fit for purpose and, and solve the problem for us that we never quite envisaged. I don’t think any of us anticipate the pandemic.


00:21:00:03 – 00:21:03:09

Marina Santilli

No, And the platform didn’t fall down either. So we were prepared.


00:21:03:09 – 00:21:48:05

Dr Stephen Schooling 

Now, I remember the Easter weekend very well. We’re now in a position where the platform is being used by over twenty TTOs in in the UK, Europe and the US and is really a great example,

of how  UCLB is providing thought leadership in technology transfer.


Tell us about sort of growth plans in terms of how you think the platform may further evolve, how we might ensure that it’s adopted more broadly and to reinforce that message that we talked about thought leadership.


00:21:48:08 – 00:22:54:09

Marina Santilli

Well, we’ve got a great team now running the product. One of the key things we did as UCLB was moving away from running, it as a “one of me and a developer trying to maintain the product”, to when we started taking on customers from other universities and particularly when we started working with some of the larger US universities. It became apparent that we need to put a much more robust team around it, particularly regarding a lot of the requirements we have from a security perspective.


One thing I didn’t mention is that we have an interface to a payment gateway, so universities can nominate their payment gateway supplier to connect to the platform, which means we have to abide by things like PCI, DSS and for CHIP credit card payments. We also have to undergo pen testing every year and there’s a whole host of other security testing for…


Dr Stephen Schooling

Pen testing? For those that are not familiar with the acronym. What’s that?


00:22:56:09 – 00:22:58:00

Marina Santilli

Penetrated testing? I’m not sure it sounds any better

(Stephen laughing in background)

Penetration testing to ensure that our system can’t be hacked.


00:23:02:01 – 00:23:23:05

Dr Stephen Schooling

This is cyber security, Marina and the usability issues that you have nowadays with web-based platforms and web-based services.


Marina Santilli



Dr Stephen Schooling

And ensuring therefore the security and robustness of the platform both in terms of, you know, hacking but also in terms of security of people’s things like credit card details and that sort of stuff, I guess.


00:23:26:11 – 00:25:19:10

Marina Santilli  

Yeah, right. We have a cybersecurity consultant that works part time. We have a dedicated obviously product development team, a specialist in user interface design, because clearly, the platform has a number of features, a lot of features in fact. One of the challenges with technology is making those features accessible to the end users because it’s no point that the features can only be used by people that studied it and developed it and are using it day in, day out.

With a system like e-lucid, the idea is that any business manager can use it so that you set up your technology and then you don’t have to think about it anymore and in theory, the licensing fees roll inand you just set up the next product. You want it to be very easy to use. That was kind of an important concern.

The team we have running it now, is doing fantastic job and being able to really promote the benefits and prove how well it operates as a robust technology and a robust system. That’s really kind of when we’ve seen an uptake in successful customer contracts over the past two or three years. It’s been a really good uptake.

We are now obviously looking to understand more of the features that that would be required from such customers. One of the things we definitely are working on now is looking at how we introduce different pricing packages. Our initial set of customers have been, I guess, the kind of top tier end of universities and are able…


Dr Stephen Schooling

Research intensive…


Marina Santilli

…Research intensive universities. But the value of being able to license what we call the long tail of IP is something that is important to every single research institution.  We want to find a way to enable the technology we have, accessible to all kinds of research institutions. We are thinking of,

Introducing other tiers of service.  That’s one of the main things we’re looking at over the coming six months, so that we can have a broader base of customers in the future.


00:25:38:14 – 00:26:12:09

Dr Stephen Schooling

I guess the aim is here is to scale the platform, find a wider base of a base of usersand effectively grow the in the base of adopters of the platform. And therefore to demonstrate the wider utility of it

and perhaps also develop new capabilities, new functionality, that could ever serve, not just TTOs

but other parts of a university in terms of knowledge transfer.


00:26:12:09 – 00:28:42:01

Marina Santilli

Yes, there’s a number of our customers are actually using it, not just for transaction licenses, but also for general marketing purposes. It’s because it’s a nice looking storefront and it’s customisable.You can see your product pages, you can add videos, you can add diagrams, text, whatever.

And most universities, ours included, don’t have very consistent ways of promoting the outputs of research through a single portal. It’s very difficult for someone to see from the outside what a university has available for third parties by third parties. I mean, you know, it can be in some cases, members of the public, because a lot of the.. I’m referring to them as products. But that’s just because the type of intellectual property we have on the e-lucid systems is so varied. Everything from software to copyright.

We have lots of copyright material and they can be tools that are used by, by parents athome if they’re schooling their children. Obviously we have lots of educational tools on there. We have lots of medical questionnaires which are used by health care professionals, and there are software there that that’s used by anyone, you know, hobbyists that are interested in particular aspects of research that UCLB has done. Even some of US customers have large portfolios of the of artistic works, portraits of celebrities, even, music, works of art for museums that they host. It’s used for a very wide number of things.

Every university we bring on, we’re just amazed at the new ideas of how the system can be used. We’re looking to promote more of that ability. We’re potentially looking at it as a transaction tool for other kinds of agreements, for example, non-disclosure agreements or CDS, budget confidential disclosure agreements. So that’s a transaction which doesn’t necessarily have a product at the end of it, but it’s a transaction between two parties. Again, that’s something we could look at developing for the tool.


Marina Santilli

So Stephen, over to you, since obviously you’ve been alongside me, for the whole of this journey and supporting us developing the e-lucid product and getting it to where it is today, what do you feel that overall have been the learnings and benefits of UCLB and UCL in developing e-lucid?


00:28:42:01 – 00:33:03:04

Dr Stephen Schooling

When we started it, we started it to fulfil a specific set of needs around paid for software licensing and to do that much more efficiently. And I think the evolution of it in terms of the new use cases,

how, in a sense, we as UCLB can get involved in different types of it, helping us transact different types of licences. You talked a little bit earlier about the free use materials, things that we were not probably considering very much at that time. And that’s allowed us to do things like dual licensing as well, has been an innovation.

I think the other learning is how applicable it’s been to a broader range of research. The perception is often that universities are only interested in STEMand outputs from science, science, technology, engineering of medicine. And I think what e-lucid has done in addition to other innovations in other programs that we’ve had, like social ventures here at UCLB, is allow us to appeal to a much broader base of the UCL research base than perhaps TTOs  would typically do so.

The example –  I’m always really, really proud of the work that we’ve done with English department.

We’ve done that, not just for the e-lucid, but with an app store opportunity, but that reaching out and helping the English department to generate both income and impact from their materials has b been really cool, helping to broaden the range of appeal of UCLB to a wider academic base.

But I suppose my proudest part about this is, it’s just us demonstrating thought leadership in technology transfer, seeing a need that the market didn’t offer and going out, developing something, developing really organically, which is, you know, a model that we’ve seen in a number of activities, a number of our spinouts can work and helps us to build something which is of a real value and real use, and then rolling that out across a broader range of universities.

And those university, I think back to when we were at the UTM conference in the end of February, the amount of interest from TTOScoming up to us, talking to us when we had that exhibition stand for the use of platform at the conference and talk to us about the the needs of the existing customers and how it’s satisfying their needs. You have customers being genuinely potentially interested in using it said to me, “You know, we’ve done something here” which helps to put UCLB on the map.

It just demonstrates that TTOs innovate. In a time when there’s lots of questions about what’s the role of TTOs are and how TTOs operate, I think this is a really great example of how a TTO innovated, taking the decision to invest in an opportunity and really seeing it through and generates some great outcome.

I’m fundamentally, really proud of what you, the team and UCLB obviously broadly has achieved with this. And I hope we can look forward now to further roll out further development of it, both in terms of addressing new needs at UCL, in terms of the research base, but getting new adopters for the platform. And we can look back in a few year time and say, you know, it’s become, not just the gold standard for express licensing, but it is the de facto standard and it is being used across the globe by as many universities as possible, and that will be a real success for us all, I think, you know, a great message for UCLB.

So that would be my hope.  That’s still going to take a lot of hard work and we know we’ve still got significant roads to walk down on this journey. But the hope is that we are now, you know, without wanting to mix my metaphors, we are definitely accelerating away into the distance.I think this is a great a great project, one I’m really proud of.


00:33:07:15 – 00:33:44:20

Marina Santilli

Great. Thank you, Stephen. And I’m going to ask you one final question.Do you actually remember what the e-lucid acronym stands for?

Dr Stephen Schooling

What does it stands for?


Marina Santilli

It stands for Electronic Licensing of UCL’s Intellectual Property Database.


Dr Stephen Schooling

Thank you, Marina. And with that, we will bring this podcast recording to a conclusion.


Marina Santilli

Thank you, Stephen, for your support on developing e-lucid