Egyptian foundation proposes overhauling science laws

Egypt's laws are holding back development of a knowledge economy, says an foundation Copyright: Flickr/Simona Scolari

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[CAIRO] A private Egyptian foundation is funding a review of various laws relating to research and industry, which they say impede the development and commercialisation of scientific results and inventions in the country.

The review and its conclusions will be presented to Egypt’s Ministry of Scientific Research — with the aim of eventually streamlining the existing, or drafting new laws, to improve uptake of research findings and entrepreneurship.

The initiative is funded by the Misr El Kheir foundation (MEK), a not-for-profit development organisation. It commissioned a law firm last month (29 July) to carry out the project and draw up the conclusions.

Alaa Idris, chairman of MEK’s scientific research committee, told SciDev.Net that the founding laws of national research centres and public universities were a "major legal hurdle […] seriously impacting the ability of the country to move towards a knowledge-based economy".

These laws prevent the establishment of spin-off companies, diminishing opportunities for the venture capital industry to fund commercially-orientated inventions, said Idris. This, he added, means that any innovation that successfully completes the research phase is "shelved", instead of proceeding to development.

The project will evaluate the national legislations governing such industry-government relations and suggest short-term solutions that would enable public-sector workers to create companies based on patents coming out of research, Idris added.

Another goal will be to draw lessons from science legislation of high-income countries.

Loay El-Shawarby, a legal adviser for the project, told SciDev.Net that Egyptian laws that ban public sector researchers from working in business "prevent researchers and academics from converting the results of their research into products, whether in their own companies or [by selling them] to a private company".

"Even the funding of science research projects by the private sector is legally complicated and unclear, and this is why we have to find some legal formula that protects both sides," added El-Shawarby.

Mohamed Eid, director of the technology management and transfer office at the national Agriculture Research Center, told SciDev.Net that research knowledge will remain "captured in a ‘paper’ and locked there forever, with no impact on society or the economy until the laws are changed".

He added the new laws should give researchers the right to produce their inventions through technology incubators, and to protect researchers’ rights when transferring their inventions to industry.