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Large companies in Venezuela must contribute between 0.5 and two per cent of their annual income to science, technology and innovation programmes, according to a law that came into force this week.

It is hoped that the new law will stimulate investment, particularly in sectors of the economy that have stagnated recently. The mandatory 'science spend' is intended to encourage increased competition by Venezuelan companies in foreign markets as well as at home.

The Organic Law of Science, Technology and Innovation applied as of 1 January 2007 to all companies, public and private, with annual gross revenues above US$ 1.5 million.

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 funnelled through a company's in-house programmes, if they provide services or goods for science, technology and innovation projects. This includes funding scholarships, patent applications and even training programmes for their own workers.

The new law is aimed at boosting the modernisation of key sectors of the economy. It is also meant to build enterprise networks and promote liaison between industry and academics and researchers.