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This is one of the most noteworthy conclusions of the debate workshop on the Spanish Science Act organized by the Catalan Association of Research Entities (ACER) and Biocat. The session, held at the Barcelona Science Park last Wednesday, was led by keynote speaker Ignasi Costas, who gave an in-depth analysis of the changes the two laws approved this year, the Sustainable Economy Act (which went into effect last March) and the Science, Technology and Innovation Act (approved by the Spanish Parliament last May with votes in favor from the main parliamentary groups, to go into effect in December) that will affect the national research and science system.

Before an audience made up mainly of directors of research centers and heads of technology transfer from Catalan universities, General Director for Research Josep M. Martorell, who opened the act, and Ignasi Costas agreed that one of the key elements of this new law is that it establishes that regulating research entities falls under the competence of the government of the autonomous community where they are located.

Martorell believes it is positive that Spanish legislation protects Catalonia’s autonomy in managing its research centers and pointed out that the Government of Catalonia aims to move forward as quickly as possible in drafting a bill with active participation from the scientific community. The General Director of Research reminded participants that, according to the experts, the three key elements for a country to create a strong science system are: quality of life in the area, economic resources, and freedom. “We can guarantee quality of life and available resources are defined by our current economic situation —surely more limited than we would wish— but what the Administration can and must do now is create a legal framework that gives the Catalan research system as much flexibility as possible.”

Ignasi Costas identified four main focal points for research and transfer activities carried out in research entities to which the Sustainable Economy Act (LES) and the Science, Technology and Innovation Act (LCTI) contribute significant changes. These are: technology transfer and R&D&i contracts; industrial and intellectual property; creation of spin-offs; and professional compatibility with management of research centers. Furthermore, he highlighted changes the Catalan Fiscal and Financial Measures Act (accompanying the 2011 budgets, which are currently being debated in the Parliament) will have on the legal framework for research and innovation, as, among others issues, it establishes a new legal regime governing CERCA and ICREA centers.

Costas reviewed the high and low points of these new acts, as some of the measures laid out in the LES regarding transfer of research results (like the need for rights to be ceded through public tender, for example, or the best fortune clauses) may be difficult to apply to the realities of the market or cause the private sector to take on less risks in developing new products from research licensed. Likewise, the speaker emphasized that this Act establishes the right of each autonomous community to regulate this aspect. Regarding R&D&i contracts, Costas highlighted the commitment to innovative public purchasing demonstrated in the two new Spanish laws; on one hand, the LES limits application of the Contract Act in the public sector, in addition to containing a new mandate for the Spanish Government to establish budgets for ministry departments and entities depending on the amounts devoted to this type of research and development contracts; and, on the other hand, the LCTI will drive public contracts for innovative activities in order to put private technology supply in line with public demand.

Another aspect of the new legislation highlighted in the workshop was regulation of researcher participation in profits derived from the exploitation of research, which the LCTI establishes as a right that now extends to personnel at centers owned by the autonomic communities (which were previously not included in the profit-sharing regulations laid out in previous legislation on patents).

Regarding the creation of spin-offs, the LCTI makes the process easier by modifying the system of incompatibilities that previously restricted research personnel from public centers (universities, research centers and public health centers) from participating in companies. The new law authorizes researchers from public centers to work part time in companies —as long as their center of origin is a capital investor in the company— and regulates sabbaticals, which may be requested for periods of up to five years in order to join private national or international organizations. The LCTI also modifies the limitations established in the Medications Act regarding the participation of healthcare personnel in organizations with economic interests in manufacturing, creating, distributing or marketing medications or healthcare products. Now this participation is possible, as long as the organization of origin is a capital investor, which will facilitate the creation of spin-offs from hospital institutes and research centers.

Finally, Costas highlighted the legislative changes that will allow research personnel from universities, state and autonomic research centers and centers belonging to the National Healthcare System to head up research centers, which was previously very difficult due to incompatibility regulations. Nevertheless, the speaker pointed out that the nomination process is confusing and not specific enough, needing to be developed through regulations or, if necessary, through the aforementioned Catalan Science Act.

The workshop closed with interventions from Catalan scientists who highlighted the importance of the task carried out by the Biocat workgroup, which collaborated with various Catalan parliamentary representatives throughout 2010 to prepare many of the amendments incorporated into the Act. In general, the legislative framework for the Spanish research system is perceived as being not fully satisfactory and the LCTI is seen as a rather tepid law. However, the fact that it recognizes Catalonia’s right to create laws regulating its own research system is seen as a highly positive aspect.

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