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China allows academics to own patents


04 January 2008

China has revised its 'science and technology constitution' to allow scientists, institutes and universities to own patents arising from publicly-funded research in an effort to boost innovation.

China's legislature - the standing committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) - passed the revised Science and Technology Progress Law on 29 December, changing the fundamental laws guiding research and innovation in the country.

Higher education institutions and academics will now for the first time be able to own intellectual property derived from publicly-funded research - providing a new incentive for them to spin-out or license their inventions. The new amendments also say scientists who have not completed scientifically risky projects should not be penalised - as long as their experimental records demonstrate that their chances of success were low.

In addition, the revised law stipulates that industry should play a major role in innovation. It paves the way for the introduction of new funds to support innovation in small and medium-sized businesses and allows companies to carry out publicly-funded R&D.

Zhu Xiaomin, a researcher at the Institute of Policy and Management, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), says that highlighting the role of the private sector could help small firms play a more active role in science and technology. 'The law has also introduced many practices that are known to spur innovation - such as the endowment of patent ownership.' 

The changes to patent ownership rules could be a boon for chemistry researchers. 'In our research, new testing and analysis technologies often emerge as byproducts,' said one scientist at the CAS Institute of Chemistry, who asked not to be named.

But much of China's patent law is still based on the principle that research funders should own patents originating from work they have paid for, he added. Revisions to other laws might now be needed.

Duan Weiwen of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said that the revised law needs to be followed by details of implementation. For example, the new amendment on research failure will need supporting regulations to distinguish between a 'reasonable' failure and any excuses offered by those who have misused funds.

Duan said China should next change the way it evaluates the quality of publicly-funded research. Instead of looking at the number of papers researchers have published in high impact journals, he believes there should be a system of peer review to allow scientists to judge whether work is really ground-breaking.

Hepeng Jia 

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