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R&D highlights of trade bill (provision of Omnibus Trade Bill that affect research and development)

R&D highlights of the trade bill

A bill aimed at strengthening the competitiveness of U.S. companies and reducing trade deficits passed the Congress last week. At press time, this Omnibus Trade Bill awaited President Reagan's signature. Tariff changes, the pending law's possible effects on new foreign-trade agreements, and an expanded definition of unfair trade practices that can trigger U.S. sanctions have dominated most discussions of this bill. However, a hodgepodge of less closely followed provisions in the 1,128-page legislative document could affect the U.S. research and development (R&D) community more directly.

Chief among them are two involving intellectual-property rights. Currently, importation of foreign products that infringe on federally issued patents, trademarks and copyrights can be banned -- but only after it has been shown that importing the product would likely injure an efficiently operated U.S. industry. Under the new legislation, such proof of injury is no longer needed to ban infringing products.

A second change would for the first time allow holders of U.S. patents for processes to sue for damages those firms that either made or imported into the United States products manufactured by infringers of their patents.

The new law would also rename the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) in Gaithersburg, Md., and expand its functions. The new Natioanl Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is slated to continue NBS' current research activities -- largely the development of measurement standards and related technologies -- while taking on several advanced-technology-outreach responsibilities.

NIST is scheduled to launch regional technology-transfer centers, for example. It also would coordinate a national technology-extension service, encourage the development of industrial consortia to exploit scientific and technological advances, and operate a national information clearinghouse on state and local technology initiatives.

Under the pending law, a one-year National Commission on Superconductivity would review major policy issues regarding the applications of superconductor-research developments. Chaired by a member of the private sector, its first charge would be to draw up within six months recommendations for enhancing R&D and implementing technology advances.

Other provisions in the new legislation would:

* establish a series of specific "partnership programs" between governments and the private sector to improve science and mathematics education -- from elementary school through college.

* set up a new College and University Research Facilities and Instrumentation Modernization Program, which would provide up to $10 million a year in competitive grants to help equip programs in agriculture, strategic metals, minerals, energy, forestry and oceanography.

* require the Secretary of State to make certain that future bilateral science and technology exchanges not only protect intellectual-property rights but also ensure that access to R&D opportunities, facilities and data "are, to the maximum extent practicable, equitable and reciprocal." The bill does not spell out how the Secretary should do this, beyond requiring that potential exchange programs initially be reviewed by federal agencies with expertise in the research area.

* triple the White House National Critical Materials Council's technical staff (to six persons) and double its support staff (to two)--all within 30 days. The council, set up in 1986, is charged with developing a federal plan for advanced materials R&D.

Finally, the new legislation declares it U.S. policy that the metric system is "the preferred system of weights and measures for U.S. trade and commerce," and would require that each federal agency use metric measurements in its procurements, grants and other business-related activities. To the extent possible, the bill says, federal workers must adopt these measures by 1992.
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Author:Raloff, Janet
Publication:Science News
Date:Aug 13, 1988
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