Thousands of civil service researchers could have their contracts amended to allow them to make money from commercialising intellectual property generated by their work.
Whitehall sources said the changes may be needed if public-sector researchers are to benefit from control over their intellectual property - a move being considered for the forthcoming science and innovation white paper, which is expected in summer.
The government believes handing ownership over to researchers would improve their employers' capacity to commercialise their work. It would also give employees a financial incentive to protect their intellectual property more diligently.
A Treasury source said academic institutions might also be asked to consider reviewing the terms of academics' contracts to ensure university researchers are not hampered by contracts that discourage exploitation. "There are problems with the civil service code and some academic contracts because they limit exploitation for personal or organisational profit," the source said.