What is fundamental research?

Before we look at US export controls on fundamental research, let us first define what it is. Fundamental research can also be called basic research. This kind of research is done to understand and formulate scientific theories instead of attempting to meet specific targets or objectives such as product designing or testing. When doing fundamental research, the researcher is attempting to conduct experiments to better understand natural occurrences, usually to be able to better predict how things like organisms, liquids, weather, solids or gases will behave in different situations. The opposite of fundamental research is referred to as applied research. When doing applied research, the scientist or engineer is attempting to create a specific end product with given properties, for example like heat resistant rubber.

Basic or fundamental research may be conducted with no real objective at all. It can also be theoretical in nature, such as extensive research into mathematics or physics that have no known use in physical application. However, it must be noted that basic research is critical to the generation of ideas and for future use in supporting applied research.

Fundamental research and export controls

When referring to the US Export control regulations, fundamental research is exempted from US export controls if the research will be published and is easily available to the general public without any proprietary restrictions on its use or reference.  In other words, the information must be available on the public domain.

Material goods will hence never be exempt from export controls on the basis of fundamental research. Material goods include software, encryption algorithms or any physical product.

If a university or academic institution that is doing fundamental research allows any of the following clauses in a project, it will lose the right to claim exemption from Export Controls:

  1. Forbidding any foreign nationals from getting involved in the project
  2. Allowing the project sponsor the freedom to approve or reject the public dissemination of research outcomes
  3. Restricting any access to publication of research outcomes

Hence, academic institutions must be careful to ensure that research outcomes are published in the correct public domains in a timely manner, with no unwarranted checks and controls except for the necessary draft review processes.

A final note: Some other important exclusions to note:

The EAR and ITAR both do not restrict the transmission or release of data by instruction when this happens during a cataloged course offered by an academic institution. In other words, a lecturer in an academic institution can freely speak about such technology and software even if there are foreign nationals in the class.

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