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[CARACAS] Venezuelan government officials have been surprised by the success of a new law that requires companies to spend up to two per cent of their annual income on science, technology and innovation programmes.

The mandatory 'science spend' applied as of 1 January 2007 to all companies ― public and private ― with annual gross revenues above US$1.5 million (see Venezuelan companies become science investors).

Companies were supposed to register their contributions by 31 March 2007. About half the companies to which the law applies, 2,050, have registered, declaring contributions totalling US$860 million.

Despite only half of the companies registering, the law's success at attracting funding to science exceeded expectations. The government has decided to extend the deadline for a further 30 days.

"The [total funding allocation for science] overcame our expectations and there are still a high number of companies to declare," Daissy Marcano, director of the National Observatory of Science, Technology and Innovation, the institution responsible for collecting the contributions, told SciDev.Net. 

The amount contributed depends on the type of company — two per cent for hydrocarbon operations, one per cent for mining and electricity firms and 0.5 per cent for other sectors.

Funds may go toward science and technology programmes at universities, research centres and public or private institutions. Organisations run directly by the Venezuelan Ministry of Science and Technology may benefit as well.

Contributions can also be channelled through a company's in-house programmes, if they provide services or goods for science, technology and innovation projects.

This can include funding scholarships, patent applications and even training programmes for their own workers.  

Luis Marcano, vice-minister for science and technology, promised a massive information drive for the next period of collection, to help companies understand how the law works.

Marcano says the law encouraged a dialogue between stakeholders that operate under different cultures: academic institutions and private companies.

Luis Núñez, director of the National Centre for Scientific Calculi of the University of Los Andes, one of the institutions that will benefit from the contributions, says that this time the scheme took a broad approach, but he believes that in the future it will target solutions to specific production and innovation problems. 

"The companies have needs that we are prepared to meet," he said.