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[RIO DE JANEIRO] President Luiz Inácio 'Lula' da Silva last month gave his approval to proposed legislation that aims to stimulate innovation in Brazil by increasing links between private companies and government laboratories.

The proposed law, which now needs to be approved by the National Congress, seeks to establish an 'innovation partnership' between research institutions and industry by, for example, permitting government facilities and staff – including those working for universities – to be used by private companies.

"The new legislation establishes a direct relationship between universities and companies," says Francelino Grando, head of the Department of Technological Policy, the section of the Ministry of Science and Technology that is responsible for coordinating debate on innovation legislation.

According to Grando, the proposed legislation would boost innovation by allowing private companies to be 'incubated' in universities. At present, universities – in common with other governmental organisations – are forbidden from allowing private companies to use their facilities.

The new legislation would also regulate the consultancy work that is often carried out by researchers to supplement their salaries. In the past, problems have arisen because many scientists have carried out freelance consultancy work using equipment and materials supplied by government laboratories.

The proposed law aims to regulate this, for example by allowing researchers to spend a percentage of their time carrying out freelance work, but specifying that a certain percentage of the money they receive should be paid over to their employing institution.

In addition, government laboratories will now be able to hire substitute researchers to fill the role of researchers who have opted for a special licence to work in a private company. Up to now, researchers could obtain permission to undertake such placements – which are not paid – but the research institution was unable to hire a substitute, meaning that they were then understaffed.

"We want the new legislation to encourage dialogue between universities and companies to boost Brazil's development," Grando says.

Similar legislation to facilitate links between government researchers and industry was initially proposed in 2002. But it caused an outcry among some researchers, who argued that it could seriously damage Brazil's research infrastructure (see Innovation law stirs controversy in Brazil).

José Cassiolato, an economist from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, says that the legislation represents significant progress for Brazil. "Creating specific legislation is very important, as it stimulates research and innovation through joint projects [between private companies and public research organisations]", he says.

But he adds that the some aspects of the legislation represent misplaced effort to replicate moves to stimulate innovation in other countries that have proved to be unsuccessful. For example, the legislation encourages universities to seek more patents on their research, in the belief that this would provide a source of revenue for their research efforts.

"Both in the United States and France there was a mistaken impression that this would increase the budget for universities and research institutes," he says. "But experience has shown that this didn't happen".

Link to the full text of the legislation

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