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[BEIJING] China has revised its science and technology constitution to give greater incentives to researchers, in an effort to boost innovation. 

China's legislature — the standing committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) — passed the revision of the 1993 Science and Technology (S&T) Progress Law last month (29 December).

The law states that the nation's overall research and development (R&D) budget, from both the government and private sectors, should continue to increase steadily each year.

R&D investment in China grew by 22 per cent in 2006, totalling 300 billion yuan (US$41.1 billion) and accounting for 1.4 per cent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). Existing plans state that R&D spending will account for 2.5 per cent of China's GDP by 2020.

Under the amended law, industry will be more involved in innovative research activities and the government will set up funds to support innovation in small and medium enterprises. Research activities and required equipment will enjoy favourable tax rates.

Amendments to the S&T law will also allow scientists, or their institutions, carrying out public-funded research projects to own the resulting patents. Additionally, the government will not retract patents unless their holders do not use them in "a reasonable period". Previously, there was no universal regulation on intellectual property rights.

Li Yuan, director of the NPC's administrative law office, explained at a news conference for the new S&T law that the looser stipulation on the patent period is intended as an incentive for researchers.

Scientists who do not complete scientifically high-risk projects will not be punished under the new law, provided their research records can prove the risk was too great. But researchers committing malpractice will be punished with measures including public exposure and the deprivation of the rights to apply for public funding.

Duan Weiwen of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and a research ethics consultant to the Ministry of Science and Technology, welcomes the amendments, saying they have summarised many ongoing S&T policies in a legal way. But he warns that the coordination of different departments is essential to implement the amendments. 

In related news, China's cabinet, the State Council, approved 'The Key New Drug Creation and Manufacturing Programme' last month (28 December), which will support the development of more than a dozen innovative drugs over the next five years.