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[BUENOS AIRES] The Argentinean government has launched an initiative to cover the cost of applying for patents, either within the country or abroad, for a selected number of researchers working either in government laboratories or small and medium-sized businesses.

Twenty-six proposed patent applications will be selected under the initiative. Each proposal will receive up to US$26,000 – enough to cover the approximately US$1,500 needed to obtain patent protection for new inventions in Argentina, although only a fraction of the about US$100,000 needed to patent products in Europe or the United States.

Daniel Filmus, Argentina's minister of education, science and technology says that the initiative will help the country adopt "a productive model based on the capacity to add value from the work of the people".

In recent decades, the rate of invention in Argentina has been low. Only 145 Argentinean residents obtained patents under the Argentinean patent system in 2000, according to the Iberoamerican Network of Science and Technology Indicators (RICYT). This compares to more than 1,400 patents taken out in Argentina by non-residents, mostly international companies.

"Argentina does not have proper protection for inventions developed by scientists in public institutions," says Lino Barañao, president of the National Agency of Scientific and Technologic Promotion, which runs the new initiative. Although most researchers can afford patenting costs in Argentina, their inventions often remain unprotected in other countries because the cost of patenting abroad, which usually includes substantial legal fees, is so expensive.

According to Barañao, other organisations — mostly from developed countries — are getting the commercial profit from such inventions and, "as a result, the benefits of research have not fed back to the society that funded the studies."

Barañao adds that in the future Argentina aims to create a "permanent fund to protect intellectual property".

According to Martín Negri, a physical chemist from Argentina's National Science Council, Conicet, and Buenos Aires University who helped developed four types of electronic nose, "this governmental support of patenting will be very useful". He says that financial assistance and practical advice to help scientists take out patents should be common practice to increase innovation in the country.

Proposals for the patent initiative should be sent to National Agency of Scientific and Technologic Promotion, Av. Córdoba 831, 5° piso, Buenos Aires, Argentina. The closing date for applications is 4 August 2004.