French law releases creative public scientists from the lab

October 22, 1999

Lionel Jospin's government is encouraging innovation by allowing collaborations between state scientists and industry and providing millions of francs. Jane Marshall reports

France's new law to make it easier for public-sector science to find its way to commercialisation got going last week - and a high-speed data transmission technique, a kind of resealable packaging and an articulated hydraulic arm were among the first to gain.

They were the prize-winning products in a contest launching France's law on innovation, which will make it easier for researchers working in public laboratories to set up or work in private companies.

Education minister Claude Allegre presented awards to five young researchers who were among 2,000 entrants in the national competition for business creation in the field of innovatory technologies.

First prize went to Thierry Georges, 34, former researcher at Cnet, France's national telecommunications research centre, who in April with eight colleagues set up the company Algety, which claims the world record for high-speed data transmission by fibre optics.

Other prizes were for a superior kind of reclosable packaging that can be manufactured easily and cheaply and used for such perishables as food or medical supplies; an articulated arm driven by a hydraulic jack for moving heavy weights; 3D special-effects software that controls lasers, lights, sound and water for artistic displays; and software to assist with geological drillings.

The five are among 244 projects whose developers will share ¤15 million (Pounds 10 million) to help expansion of their enterprises. The competition was the latest in a series of actions connected with the innovation reform started last year by prime minister Lionel Jospin.

The new legislation, passed in July, removes restrictions that previously prevented public researchers and scientists from collaborating with private industry and hindered development of high-tech and other inventions.

Although a law of 1984 theoretically allowed public research workers some freedom to commercialise their work, in practice they still faced obstacles. Since then fewer than 400 enterprises originating from public research have been created, compared with a total of 166,000 companies, in all sectors, last year alone.

The new act is intended to encourage personnel and technology transfer from the public sector and set up innovatory companies.

State researchers can now participate in private businesses in a number of ways: by starting their own firms to exploit their work; joining private companies interested in developing their expertise; and benefiting from a financial stake in the company and becoming company directors.

The law encourages the establishment of "incubator" sites in public education and research institutions to provide new firms with such support as premises, training and facilities; and makes available ¤15.2 million (Pounds 10 million) of start-up funds.

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