The UK government's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has announced plans to make publicly funded scientific research available for anyone to read for free, in a move that could benefit the technology industry.

Currently, most research is only available behind restricted paywalls – even though it has already been paid for from the public purse. Reforms will see publications opened up to a greater audience, providing more opportunities for research and development (R&D) across a range of sectors.

They will also support the commercial exploitation of research, contributing to the government’s economic growth agenda. This will include “extending the licensing of access enjoyed by universities to high technology businesses for a modest charge”.

A BIS spokesperson told Techworld that a key rationale for offering free and open access to taxpayer-funded research is the potential it holds for speeding up technological innovation and encouraging technology transfer.

“Open Innovation encompasses practices that entail collaboration in research and development across and between organisations, researchers, and experts,” he said.

“The world is increasingly dependent upon technology, and countries that are the best at undertaking and applying technological innovations will have a competitive advantage globally.”

The news was welcomed by Research Councils UK (RCUK) – the strategic partnership of the UK's seven Research Councils which annually invest around £3 billion in research.

“Widening access to the outputs of research currently published in journals has the potential to contribute substantially to furthering the progress of scientific and other research, ensuring that the UK continues to be a world leader in these fields,” said Professor Doug Kell, RCUK Champion for Research and Information Management.

The government's decision is outlined in a formal response to recommendations made in the Report of the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings, by the Finch Group. BIS said the report is likely to influence the development of open access policy in Europe and the US.

The details of how these measures should be developed will be worked on by funders in consultation with universities, research institutions, authors and publishers, according to BIS.