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[RABAT] Morocco has launched three new projects, including a €45 million (US$65 million) research fund to encourage partnerships between businesses and inventors, as part of a strategy to boost research and innovation.

The country will build four 'innovation cities' — science and technology hubs that will host research centres, specialised companies and business incubators — and set up the Moroccan Centre for Innovation and three new funds worth US$65 million.

The funds will support grants for young researchers, and the research and development programmes of companies, Ahmed Reda Chami, Morocco's minister of industry, commerce and new technologies, told the Second Conference on Innovation in Skhirat, Morocco, last month (1 March).

Education minister Ahmed Akhchichine said that three innovation cities will be built this year in Fez, Marrakech and Rabat. A fourth centre will be added in Casablanca next year.

The goal of the Moroccan Centre for Innovation, Akhchichine said, will be to track down potential inventors at the country's universities and provide them with support to implement their innovations.

Akhchichine said that Morocco "already has much potential and many abilities" and, with the measures the government is taking, he is optimistic about the sustainable future of innovation in the country.

"Last year, Moroccan universities managed to produce 40 patents, compared with less than 10 patents in the previous year," he said, crediting the success to the government incentives.

Hassanabou Saad, a senior official in the Moroccan Inventors and Innovators Union, told SciDev.Net that initiatives such as the innovation cities "could play a key role in supporting researchers until their inventions see the light."

And Youssef Ait Ali, an inventor, said the new projects may help in removing financial barriers, which have always been a stumbling block for rolling out new inventions, although he added that high fees paid by inventors on new patents may still hamper innovations.  

Although the country's inventors and innovation unions welcomed the new projects, they say there is still a long way to go.

Charnoubi Abdelghani, the founding member of the Moroccan Association of Young Inventors, told SciDev.Net the projects will not solve what his association identifies as the main obstacle in supporting young inventors — inadequate access to loans for developing innovations.

Abderrahim Boumediane, president of the Moroccan Inventors and Innovators Association, said most of the government's reforms in the innovation field could turn out to be ineffective as "Morocco still doesn't have a ministry for scientific research", hampering the sustainability of such projects.