Science  09 Aug 2002:
Vol. 297, Issue 5583, pp. 915

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  1. Patent Protest

    Academics at the University of Cambridge, U.K., are protesting an administration plan to claim all intellectual property (IP) generated by campus researchers. Critics say the change will stifle innovation and stall the “Cambridge phenomenon”: the dramatic growth of university-spawned high-tech companies.

    Currently, Cambridge lays claim only to research findings generated using external funds, whereas staff members can independently patent and control IP produced with university grants. But the governing council last week proposed that the university gain control of all campus IP created after January 2003. Any patent profits would be shared among the inventor, the inventor's department, and the university.

    The new policy would bring Cambridge into line with most U.K. universities, administrators say. And any connection between the university's hands-off approach to patenting and the commercial success of its spin-offs is “unprovable,” they add.

    Cambridge computer scientist Ross Anderson disagrees and is drumming up opposition to the plan. Regent House, the university's democratic decision-making body, could vote on the issue as soon as October.

  2. Intramural Introspection

    National Institutes of Health director Elias Zerhouni is taking a look at NIH's intramural programs to make sure they hew to their official mission. Zerhouni, who's been at NIH 2 months now, told Science that the intramural program “plays a very important role” and that he “agrees” that its 10% share of NIH's total $23.5 billion budget is about right. However, he wants to be sure that each institute's intramural portfolio is “second to none” in quality and consists of “programs only the NIH [intramural program] can do.”

    Michael Gottesman, NIH's intramural research deputy director, has been gathering responses from the directors of NIH's 27 institutes and centers on what “unique things” their intramural programs do. Gottesman says the review is part of “an ongoing process” in which an outside board reviews each institute's intramural component. Zerhouni, he says, simply wants to “be certain” that the program “is used to support high-impact research and training activities which would be difficult to conduct elsewhere.”

  3. Science Cuts Coming?

    French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin is considering major cuts to France's R&D budget, according to press reports last week. Finance ministry officials are thinking about cutting the $9 billion research account by 7.6% in 2003 to help the government make up for a slowing economy and deliver a promised tax cut, according to the daily Libération. But science minister Claudie Haigneré was reportedly campaigning against the idea, noting that the ruling party has also pledged to boost overall science spending to 3% of GDP by 2005. R&D spending currently accounts for 2.17% of GDP.

    Anxious French researchers will know soon whether Haigneré's arguments fell on sympathetic ears: The budget proposal is due to be considered by the council of ministers on 18 September and then sent to Parliament for final approval.

  4. Technically Sound Test Ban

    There are no major technical hurdles to verifying a global nuclear test ban treaty, a National Academy of Sciences panel concluded last week. The 11-member panel, led by Harvard University security expert John Holdren, concluded that monitoring technologies make it nearly impossible for cheaters to hide tests of even the smallest weapons, down to 1 kiloton. The findings undermine claims made by opponents of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), signed but never ratified by the United States.

    Crater from 1962 blast.CREDIT: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY

    The report, requested 2 years ago by Clinton Administration officials, arrives as nations prepare to gather in New York City next month to discuss ways to move ahead with the stalled CTBT, which can't take effect until it is ratified by the 44 states judged capable of building nuclear weapons. So far, 13 of those nations have refused. The Senate tabled the treaty in 1999 after a bitter debate, and the Bush Administration has no plans to revive the issue.

    The report isn't likely to break the stalemate, observers say. But panelist Paul Richards, a seismology expert at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, predicts that the treaty “will become politically salient again. And when it does, this report will be out there, ready to inform policy-makers.”