Order conjures up Soviet past

July 27, 2001

Russia's ruling science body has defended an order issued to research institutes to report sensitive foreign contacts in a move to protect intellectual property.

The Russian Academy of Sciences estimates that some $6 billion worth (£4.2 billion) of intellectual property has been lost to the West over the past ten years through licence agreements and joint research programmes.

The order, On Plans for Measures by the Academy of Sciences to Prevent Damage Being Done to the Russian Federation , was designed to prevent scientists with little experience of commercial and research negotiations giving away too much.

A spokesman for the RAS said: "The order is entirely concerned with internal disciplinary issues - with people going abroad, making speeches at conferences, participating in research and the exchange of ideas. The instruction is aimed at ensuring that these people tell their colleagues what it was all about; what they published and where; what they have learned or taught."

Russian human rights campaigner Sergei Kovalev has accused the academy of seeking to re-impose Soviet-era restrictions on science.

Boris Saltykov, chairman of the Open Society Institute's committee for new technologies and information policy, who was Russia's science minister from 1991-96, said the order reflected the unreformed nature of the academy of sciences, a body dominated by the old guard of Soviet science.

He said: "Every country must protect its military, scientific and commercial secrets, but this is just not the way to do it."

Dr Saltykov said naivety cost the country a lot in the early post-Soviet years, when Asian countries - such as South Korea - poached hundreds of Russian scientists and with them details of leading-edge technologies.

Researchers at scientific institutes in Moscow echoed Dr Saltykov's view, but said that Soviet-era controls on science could be revived at any time.

Leonid Levkovich, a senior scientist at the Keldysh Institute of Applied Mathematics, said: "When I discussed the order with several of my colleagues, the common opinion was that it contained nothing new - in the sense that working contacts with foreign scientists and companies are not likely to be restricted. Certainly I have not been asked to report my meetings with foreigners in Moscow University, or at the recent conference in the British embassy."

Diplomatic sources in Moscow advised British scientists with contacts in Russia not to over-react but to keep an eye on developments. "Intellectual collaboration is simply vital to Russia - the economics of these contacts will ensure that a way is found through this issue," one diplomat said.

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