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Gov unveils plans to make tax-funded research freely accessible

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All publicly-funded research data should be made freely accessible to benefit business and society, the government has said.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) said making the information freely available would help stimulate economic growth, innovation and entrepreneurism, and improve public sector transparency.

"The government, in line with our overarching commitment to transparency and open data, is committed to ensuring that publicly-funded research should be accessible free of charge," a BIS report into Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth (104-page/1.15MB PDF) said.

"Free and open access to taxpayer-funded research offers significant social and economic benefits by spreading knowledge, raising the prestige of UK research and encouraging technology transfer," it said. "At the moment, such research is often difficult to find and expensive to access. This can defeat the original purpose of taxpayer-funded academic research and limits understanding and innovation."

"We have already committed, in our response to Ian Hargreaves' review of intellectual property, to facilitate data mining of published research. This could have substantial benefits, for example in tackling diseases. But we need to go much further if, as a nation, we are to gain the full potential benefits of publicly-funded research," the report said.

"Government will work with partners, including the publishing industry, to achieve free access to publicly-funded research as soon as possible and will set an example itself," it said.

Among the plans the government hopes will advance its strategy are proposals to establish an Open Data Institute to "ensure that Open Data research is transformed into commercial advantage for UK companies, work with academic centres to increase the number of trained personnel with extensive Open Data skills and provide expert advice for government," BIS said.

The government will also force Research Councils to "ensure the researchers they fund" comply with an existing requirement to "deposit published articles or conference proceedings in an open access repository at or around the time of publication". Currently this is "unevenly enforced," BIS said.

The Research Councils have also committed to investing £2m to develop a 'Gateway to Research' by 2013, BIS said.

"In the first instance this will allow ready access to Research Council funded research information and related data but it will be designed so that it can also include research funded by others in due course," the report said. "The Research Councils will work with their partners and users to ensure information is presented in a readily reusable form, using common formats and open standards".

The government has previously outlined plans to make NHS patient data available to clinical researchers to improve the development of medical treatments and proposes to make a range of further public data available, including information from the healthcare and transport sectors within the next few years. The Open Data Institute will use this data to "to help industry exploit the opportunities created through the release of this data," BIS said.

"Our goal is a transformation in the accessibility of research and data. As these new initiatives take effect, we will be mindful of the need to protect the national interest – for example, on national security, personal privacy and commercial sensitivity – as well as the reputation of our research base," it said.

BIS said measures such as helping businesses innovate by cutting 'red tape', promoting "curiosity-driven" research and helping businesses benefit from international collaborations were "central elements" of the government's open data and research strategy.

"Large volumes of data remain unused and its value is untapped. The Office of Fair Trading has noted that key barriers to exploiting the value in public sector data included difficulty of access, charging regimes and a simple failure to exploit it. We believe there is an opportunity for the UK to establish a first mover advantage in open data. We will help to facilitate access to public sector data so that maximum value can be derived," BIS said.

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