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[BEIJING] Chinese scientists are being urged to actively seek intellectual property protection on their research into severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

"Scientific research preventing SARS must be protected with patents, because they not only bring economic benefits but are also related to national safety,'' says Wu Mingbo, vice-commissioner of the State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO).

Researchers at the Beijing Genome Research Centre – part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences – have reportedly already submitted patent applications for their SARS-related research to the SIPO. But many researchers are publicly refusing to apply for such patents, citing concerns that it might impede cooperation and arguing that the application process is too time-consuming.

The advice was given to researchers following media reports that some Canadian, US and Hong Kong research institutes are preparing to apply for local and international patents on SARS-related research. These results include sequencing of the SARS genome, developing a diagnostic test for SARS, and information on gene mutations of the SARS virus.

As the country worst hit by the SARS outbreak, China has launched a massive scientific research effort to prevent and control the disease. The Ministry of Science and Technology reported on Tuesday that it has ploughed more than 108 million yuan (US$13 million) into about 85 SARS-related research projects.

"With heavy investments, fresh research material and the great devotion of scientists, China could definitely produce plenty of successes concerning SARS preventions," says Lin Jianning, director of the state-owned China Southern Pharmaceutical Institute. "Without sufficient patent protection, however, they could become sources of profit for international pharmaceutical firms''.