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  • Innovation law stirs controversy in Brazil

Government proposals to introduce a new law intended to stimulate scientific research and technological innovation in Brazil has upset both academic researchers and those concerned with the application of scientific results.

The former are concerned that the so-called Innovation Law, if approved, could seriously damage Brazil’s research infrastructure. The latter claim that it does not go far enough to achieve a significant change in technological innovation in the country.

The draft text of the Law, proposed by the Ministry of Science and Technology, seeks to relax employment rules covering scientific and technological institutions. It would, for example, allow the recruitment of temporary research staff for the first time.

The idea is not new: similar mechanisms are used in European countries, such as the United Kingdom, and the proposed Brazilian law has been based on one passed in 1999 in France.

In Brazil, however, there are concerns that a lack of restrictions on temporary recruitment could have an impact on long-term contracts.

"Although the first article of the proposed law project seeks to stimulate research and innovation, its main purpose seems to be to introduce short-term contracts in science and technology", claims José Antonio Martins Simões, a physicist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).

The proposed law also includes provisions for strengthening the links between scientific institutions and the private sector. For example, it allows university-based scientists to work for short periods of time in companies.

Technological companies could also use the laboratories of scientific and technological institutions, as well as their equipment and instruments, or even borrow them to set up in their own annexes, for a suitable fee. However, there is no clear mention in the Law as to the control mechanisms that would regulate such agreements.

Many scientists are critical of the Law’s potential implications. According to Roberto Nicolsky, also a researcher at the UFRJ, the proposed Law "is deeply inadequate, because it is a law [intended primarily] to facilitate the mobility of researchers from scientific institutions to technological companies".

In contrast, Nelson Brasil de Oliveira, vice-president of the Brazilian Association of the Fine Chemistry Industries, wrote in the newspaper Jornal do Brasil that the proposal "is extremely modest in its efforts to define the tools needed to stimulate technological development in private companies, the real motor of technological innovation".

José Carlos Cavalcanti, a researcher at the Federal University of Pernambuco and president of Facepe (the regional funding agency of the state of Pernambuco), argues that any innovation law should aim to avoid concentrating scientific and technological activity in only a few areas of the country, as happens in Brazil.

“The law should include mechanisms to disseminate a general culture of innovation", he says, suggesting that the law should include tax reductions for companies that increase investments that promote such a culture.

Spurred by such arguments, opposition groups are already preparing amendments that they will try to make to the proposed law when it is debated and voted on in the Brazilian Parliament next month.

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