Company factfile

  • Invented by: Dr Roelof van Silfhout, School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering
  • Application: X-ray Research
  • Licensed to: FMB Oxford Limited in 2011
  • IP: Patents, know-how
  • Funding: £405,500 from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Further funding of £190,000 was acquired under the EPSRC’s ‘Collaboration Fund’ which required a collaborative partner, FMB Oxford Limited and EPSRC Follow-on Fund.


“I decided early on that going through with the commercialisation processs would be the best way to give users access to the technology”

Dr Roelof van Silfhout

About The Nano Beam Position Monitor

The BPM provides detailed diagnostics of the impinging beam during measurements using highly focused beams and is the only technology of its kind in the world. The technology will have uses in synchrotron radiation centres across the globe, where its speed and simplicity is likely to have a huge impact on quality and precision of research conducted with X-rays. It is anticipated that, in addition to its use in the synchrotron based X-ray measurements, the BPM could be developed for the healthcare industry, where precision beam positioning is necessary in radiotherapy treatment and there is also scope for using key components of the system as a smart camera.

Speaking about the licensing deal, Managing Director at FMB Nigel Boulding commented: “Our collaboration with UMIP has been very successful. Our first production systems have now been tested on a synchrotron and these have delivered the promised performance. We look forward to significant sales of this novel BPM over the next few years.”

We met up with the inventor, Dr Roelof van Silfhout, to find out more about his experiences of the licensing process…

Was the application of the invention apparent from the outset?

Yes, the invention resulted from solving a particular requirement that we had and none of the existing methods suited our needs. The nature of our research means that we work closely with Synchrotron Radiation (SR) users across the world and we also identified that there was additional requirement for our invention.

How important was the funding?

The funding support was crucial in developing and demonstrating the invention. EPSRC funded the work after we applied with the key ideas that are now patented. The funding allowed us to turn our ideas into a prototype and collect performance data to support the patent application. It was very important to have the time to do the R&D work to make the ideas work in the lab. The amount of work involved in developing a technology demonstrator is significant and often underestimated.

How do you feel you have benefited from licensing this technology out?

To go through the process of patenting is one big step to take. To actually then find someone to pay money and enter into a licence agreement is a further major step which requires a completely different skill set. UMIP colleagues have played a key role in securing the licence deal. Additionally, our relationship with FMB has led to an EPSRC Case Award which funded a PhD student to investigate further applications and other related products which, in turn, has led to further funding for complementary technologies.

Has this process improved your links to industry?

Yes, definitely. It not only improves your links to the licence holder but also gives a researcher more credibility with other businesses. I think that we were successful with the licence because we solved a problem and developed a complete solution requiring little or no development for the company.

How did you manage to juggle this with your other activities?

Good question, there is a catch. Inventing a method or product is only the first step in a long process. To actually take the idea to a marketable product requires a lot of hard work and above all time but is an enjoyable process.

What did you especially value from the University during this process?

The support the University offers through UMIP in all aspects of knowledge protection and transfer is excellent right from the initial stages through to detailed negotiations with industry.

What were your aspirations for getting involved in the commercialisation process?

I decided early on that going through with the commercialisation process would be the best way to give users access to the technology and at the same time get an insight (and contacts) into the commercial world.

Was there anything which ‘surprised’ you during the process?

The timescales involved in terms of applying for patent protection, licensing and collaborating with industry was much larger than I had anticipated originally… but it has
all be very worthwhile.

Do you have any advice for colleagues thinking of licensing?

If I had presented the original idea to the current licence holder of the technology, I expect that we would not have entered into a licence with them. It was only when we were able to show the prototype with detailed characterisations that they were interested. After that the licence deal was struck fairly quickly. Try to ensure that your technology requires as little development as possible for any potential licensee.

What does the future hold for the BPM?

FMB has already sold 2 units and we have gained further funding to investigate further applications for the BPM technology within a different market sector. The monitor could be developed for the healthcare industry, where precision beam positioning is necessary in radiotherapy treatment. Developing the prototype has resulted in more inventions that are currently topic of discussion for patent protection with colleagues at UMIP.

In addition, we have recently secured direct funding from an SR facility to carry out a feasibility study looking to incorporate a new sensor into the existing BPM unit. UMIP have assisted us to work with the SR facility under suitable terms and conditions which will hopefully lead to another new product when the sensor is available for commercial use.

“Inventing a method or product is only the first step in a long process. To actually take the idea to a marketable product requires a lot of hard work and above all time but is an enjoyable process”

Dr Roelof van Silfhout

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