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Patent offices in developing countries are to be offered free or low-cost access to a range of online scientific journals from the end of the year.

The Access to Research for Development and Innovation (aRDi) scheme was launched by the UN World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in partnership with some major global publishers of scientific and technical journals.

The scheme seeks to give patent offices in some of the world's poorest countries the background information required to evaluate patent applications and help local innovators commercialise their inventions — in line with the objectives of WIPO's 2007 development agenda (see WIPO recognises developing world rights).

It will allow patent offices in the 50 least-developed countries to subscribe free of charge, and those in a further 57 developing countries to subscribe at very low cost, to 150 technical publications on a list compiled by WIPO.

Journals include those published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Nature Publishing Group, Elsevier, the American Institute of Physics and Oxford University Press.

Maurice Long, publishing coordinator for the Research4Life programmes HINARI, AGORA and OARE, told SciDev.Net that patent offices must have access to such publications if they are to function properly.

WIPO director-general Francis Gurry said in a press release: "Such practical programmes which enable developing and least developed countries to access and exploit [scientific] information effectively are an important priority for WIPO."

He added that the scheme will complement other WIPO efforts, including the PatentScope service, which allows anyone to search pending patent applications.

Gurry launched the scheme at a forum on the strategic use of intellectual property for prosperity and development held in Geneva, Switzerland, last month (23–24 July). The scheme will begin at the end of the year and run at least until the completion of the UN Millennium Development Goals in 2015.