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Minister of Science: Israel is five years behind in examining applications for patents in the field of biotechnology

Minister Zandberg attacked the Ministry of Finance's position on banning R&D in government universities • Suggests that the Ministry of Science receive royalties on investments in scientific research that yielded commercial products • Calls for tax benefits for Jewish investors in the fields of biotechnology

"Israel is five years behind in examining applications for patents in the field of biotechnology." This is what Orit Regev, director of the chemistry and biotechnology department and deputy commissioner of patent examiners, said at a conference of the Israel Management Center (MIL) on biotechnology, which took place today (Thursday) in Tel Aviv. According to her, the delay is due to a leap in the number of applications for patents in the field of biotechnology and a lack of patent examiners. However, this length of time is reasonable compared to Europe, where applications from four years ago are processed.

Orit Regev said that in 2003, 5,898 applications were submitted to register patents - 14% of them, 843 applications, in the field of biotechnology and most of them were non-Israeli. An additional 400 applications were submitted in the field of medical devices, 70% of which were from foreign companies and 30% from companies from Israel.

The Minister of Science and Technology, Modi Zandberg, attacked at the conference the position of the Ministry of Finance according to which scientific research and development should be prohibited in government hospitals, which he defined as "unreasonable". According to Zandberg, it is not possible for R&D to take place in municipal and other hospitals, while the government hospitals will be disadvantaged. Beyond that, there is no logic in not exhausting the vast knowledge accumulated by the doctors in the government hospitals and turning it into useful knowledge. According to him, the Treasury's position will result in a huge loss of knowledge that can be directed to the Israeli industry.

The Minister of Science and Technology stated that his office emphasizes investments in biotechnology and nanotechnology research, in recognition of the scientific and economic potential of these fields and in view of the relative advantage that Israel has in these fields in the world. According to him, the market for biotechnological products will reach 100 billion dollars by 2010, while the nanotechnology market will reach a trillion dollars in 2015. It is not clear how realistic these estimates are, but there is no doubt that Israel must play an important role in this market, the minister said.

According to Minister Zandberg, Israel has a huge potential for integration into the global biotechnology market due to the existence of a high-quality professional workforce, a long history of agricultural research, and industry and research that coincide with global trends in this field.

Zandberg further stated that his office decided to direct government support in three main sub-fields in the field of biotechnology and they are: cancer research, immunology, bio-agronomy as well as in medical devices related to this field. The Minister of Science announced that funding for the establishment and maintenance of knowledge centers in the field of biotechnology that provide services and equipment to all academic institutions and industry will continue. The establishment of these centers stems from the particularly expensive cost of the equipment and the need for this equipment to be used by all those involved in the field. In 2004, the ministry will invest NIS 11 million in these centers, in addition to the NIS 17 million already invested in the previous year. These are five centers at the Weizmann Institute, Hadassah Ein-Kerem and the Volcani Institute.

The Minister of Science stated that over the past five years his office has invested approximately $30 million in scientific research in the fields of electro-optics, an investment that has yielded 70 start-ups, half of which are still active today and employ approximately 1,000 employees. This investment had additional consequences such as the training of skilled personnel and the transition of professionals to industry. The electro-optical industry, for its part, raised about one and a quarter billion dollars in venture capital investments during this period.

Minister Modi Zandberg put forward his proposal at the conference that for the first time the Ministry of Science would receive royalty refunds for its investment in encouraging infrastructural research that produced commercial products. According to him, since any scientific research has become a commercial product, there is no reason why the ministry should not benefit from royalties, which will be used for reinvestment in encouraging new research, similar to the way the chief scientist works in the Ministry of the National Institute of Public Health. Minister Zandberg also suggested that tax benefits be granted to Jewish investors who invest their capital in the fields of biotechnology, similar to the benefits given today for investments in oil exploration and movies.

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