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The new Science Act

  • 15 September 2011
  • Articles

On June 2 the Official State Gazette published the “Science, Technology and Innovation Act”, better known as the Science Act, which supersedes the previous law that was approved in 1986, establishing the general framework for the promotion and coordination of scientific and technical research in Spain, particularly the Spanish Public System of Science, Technology and Innovation.
The new law has been passed with wide political agreement and long-term commitment. This long-term approach can only be achieved with “framework legislation”, which establishes guidelines but does not lay down the exact measures to follow.

The new Science Act is no exception to this, suggesting far-reaching structural changes but leaving their execution to further implementing regulations, some of which already exist, such as the Universities Act of 2007 or the Sustainable Economy Act of March 2011, as well as others that are yet to be passed, such as the Statute of Teaching and Research Staff.

It brings to an end a period of more than 25 years that began with the previous law, which sought to promote an erratic Research System that lacked sufficient critical mass. Nowadays Spain is the ninth world power in terms of scientific publications and indicators, which have grown significantly in recent years, as have the number of investigators and patents.

As the new Act shows, the time has come to take a broader approach and correct certain weaknesses of the Spanish System of Science, Technology and Innovation, focusing on new objectives such as improving efficiency in research, promoting the “transfer” of knowledge and collaboration between the public and private sectors, and internationalising our R&D+i, among other things.

Although the aspects of the Act that have attracted the most public attention have been institutional changes relating to planning and, in particular, to labour relations with research staff and public procurement of technology, from the point of view of Intellectual Property this law has tackled some important reforms aimed at:

– Improving the efficiency of research by promoting preliminary technological research or intelligence systems that make it possible to avoid superfluous or irrelevant research. This objective is even included in the investigators duties.

– Increasing assets for the Public Authorities by granting them ownership, by default, of any creation developed by investigators contracted by them. It is specifically established that the ownership of all Intellectual Property results deriving from work carried out by investigators or authors working for said public bodies will correspond to the latter by default. This is a significant new feature because previously this attribution was only specifically the case with patents.

– Promoting and even imposing the transfer of the results obtained to society, whether through knowledge transfer contracts or Intellectual Property right contracts, made more flexible as they are governed exclusively by private law, or through freely accessible repositories. In any case, investigators duties include the obligation to make their results known.

As was the case with the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act in the United States, we now have a new starting point with a very ambitious approach and a long way to go.

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The new Science Act