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National Science Foundation moves to crack down on IP theft by foreign researchers


By David Schwartz
Published: August 6th, 2019

In the latest move by U.S. federal research agencies to combat IP theft by competitor nations, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has initiated several policies that some observers say are necessary in light of recent problems, while others warn such measures could needlessly disrupt international collaborations.

The NSF policies are detailed in a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter sent by the agency director France Córdova. The letter restates a rule introduced in 2018 that NSF rotators  must be U.S. citizens or have applied for U.S. citizenship, and also issued a new policy prohibiting permanent and temporary personnel from participating in foreign talent recruitment efforts like China’s ‘Thousand Talents’ program. Links with such international initiatives could violate ‘ethical principles,’ Córdova cautioned, and lead to inappropriate foreign influence on NSF policies and  program — including its merit review process.

In addition, the NSF sent a reminder to agency staff that ethics rules require accurate and timely financial disclosure reports, including disclosure of any fees or gifts received from foreign governments.

Córdova insisted NSF’s values have not changed, stating that ‘what has changed is the scope and sophistication of the activities threatening our research community, such as certain foreign-government-sponsored talent recruitment programs.’

The NSF action comes on the heels of several other actions recently taken by government research agencies, including the Department of Energy’s directive in June prohibiting its scientists from participating in certain talent recruitment programs, and the National Institutes of Health investigations of more than 60 research institutions regarding failure to disclose financial ties to foreign entities.

Some researchers and science advocates are expressing concerns about these efforts. The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), for example, is urging federal officials to “consider the unintended consequences that may result from the implementation of policies that signal a more restrictive and xenophobic U.S. research enterprise.”

While acknowledging the importance of protecting federally funded IP, ASBMB policy analyst André Porter said the group hopes agencies will “be very measured in their approach … not barring students from particular countries, for example.”

Several leading research universities are also pushing back, including MIT, Yale, Caltech, Johns Hopkins, Stanford, the University of Chicago, and Columbia, issuing statement supporting foreign students and scholars, and arguing that international scientific collaborations are being disrupted by unprecedented scrutiny in the U.S.

Source: Chemistry World

On July 25th, Tech Transfer Central hosted a critically important webinar, Mitigating Risks Associated with Foreign Research Collaborators, in partnership with export control and trade compliance expert Wendy Epley.

Ms. Epley discussed how universities can comply with the added security measures being required by federal agencies while identifying red flags and subtle clues of inappropriate foreign influence.

If you missed the live event, the entire program and all supplemental materials are now available as a recorded DVD or on-demand video. For complete details and to order, CLICK HERE.

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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