Export of technology
Export licensing for exporters of controlled technology (ie information used to make controlled goods such as weapons).
UK and European export control laws cover certain types of technology. Under these laws, you need a licence to export controlled technology from the UK. Different types of export licence are available to technology exporters, depending on the type of controlled technology involved and the destination country.
What you need to know about ‘technology’
If you export controlled goods you need to know whether technology export controls apply to any information you provide. You need to:
- understand the definition of ‘technology’ that is used for the purpose of export controls
- know if an exclusion applies
- consider how and who is transferring the technology
Technology: definitions and exclusions
For export control purposes ‘controlled technology’ means specific information that someone would need to develop, produce or use goods whose export is legally controlled. This information could be plans, manuals, models and so on. It could be written, printed, recorded, saved electronically, spoken or passed on in some other way.
For example, most goods designed specifically for military use are controlled exports. Therefore, information for them - such as production drawings - is a controlled technology.
Some other examples of controlled technology include:
- technology required for explosive-related goods
- dual-use technology, such as industrial information that could be used for both civilian and military purposes
- technology relating to goods used for torture
You can get details of goods covered by export controls in the guide: UK Strategic Export Control Lists - the consolidated list of strategic military and dual-use items
To make sure export controls aren’t unnecessarily restrictive there are some important exclusions. These cover:
- information that is already in the public domain - for example a user manual that’s freely and legally available on a public website
- ‘basic scientific research’ - for example an academic paper on research that was done to find out something new about a fundamental scientific principal and not for a specific practical purpose
- technology needed for installing, operating, maintaining and repairing controlled items that have already been authorised for export
- information that is the minimum needed to install, operate, maintain and repair non-military items, even if this information could have a military use
It’s very important to understand whether technology you export is controlled.
You can access separate associated information on:
- provision of technology - in the guide on supplementary WMD End-Use controls
- transfer abroad of controlled military technology and software by electronic means - in the guide on the electronic transfer abroad of controlled military technology and software
- export control legislation for academics and researchers in the UK - in the guide on export control legislation for UK academics and researchers
Licensing and compliance of controlled ‘technology’
If the technology you export is controlled then you must obtain a licence. There are several different licences available to technology exporters. The type of licence you need depends on:
- the nature of the technology you’re exporting
- the destination of your exports
Open General Export Licence
The first step in licensing your technology exports is to check whether you could use an Open General Export Licence (OGEL). OGELs are general licences that allow any exporter to export specified controlled items to eligible destinations. They remove the need to apply for an individual licence. You can find out more in the guide: Open General Licences: an overview.
Three OGELs apply specifically to technology exports:
- Technology for Military Goods
- Technology for Dual-Use Items
- Access Overseas to Software and Technology for Military Goods: Individual Use Only
If you export controlled technology using an OGEL you must stick to the specified conditions and keep certain records. It’s your responsibility to check the licence requirements and keep up to date with any changes.
For more information on the record keeping and compliance responsibilities of exporters, see the guide on compliance and enforcement of export controls.
If you are not entitled to use an OGEL, you might be able to apply for the other types of licences issued by the ECO. These include:
- Standard Individual Export Licences (SIELs) - see the guide on Standard Individual Export Licences
- Open Individual Export Licences (OIELs) - see the guide on Open Individual Export Licences
Applying for a licence
Use the SPIRE online export licensing system to register to use an OGEL or to apply for an individual licence.
Controlled technology and exclusions from control: some examples
Whether or not technology exports are controlled depends on a number of factors, including the nature of the goods they relate to and the content of the information. The following examples will help you understand why some technology needs to be controlled while other information is exempt from control.
Example 1 - production drawings for military equipment
A manufacturer of military radios is considering having the outer casings produced by a mouldings specialist in another country. To find out if the specialist can produce the casings, the manufacturer needs to send them production drawings for the parts.
The casings will be used specifically for military radio equipment, meaning the production drawings are designed to enable someone to produce a controlled military item. So the drawings are controlled technology for the purposes of export control. The manufacturer needs a licence to send them to the mouldings specialist.
Example 2: a freely downloadable manual for military equipment
An optical manufacturer produces a night vision sight for guns. Their night sights are sold worldwide and they are very popular.
The government of another country asks for 200 printed copies of the user manual to supply to their armed forces. The optical manufacturer has sold so many of the sights that the user manual is available for anyone to download from their website, but the foreign army would prefer paper copies.
The user manual relates to a controlled military item, so the information in it would normally be controlled technology that needs an export licence. But because the manual is freely available in the public domain it’s excluded from the controls. It makes no difference that the information will be sent in printed form rather than downloaded, so the manufacturer is free to send the manuals without an export licence.
Frequently asked questions on the export of technology
The following is a selection of common questions which are often raised at the Export Control Organisation’s exporter seminars and workshops.
What do you mean by ‘technology’?
‘Technology’ is information relating to goods and software. For example, blueprints, plans, diagrams, models, formulae, tables, designs, specifications, manuals and instructions.
Is all technology controlled?
Except in certain cases, technology is only controlled if it is required for the development, production or use of listed goods or software, or if the technology itself is specifically described in the UK Strategic Export Control Lists.
‘Required’, ‘development’, ‘production’ and ‘use’ are themselves defined terms which need to be understood in order to determine whether a piece of ‘information’ is controlled. In addition, there are exemptions for technology ‘in the public domain’, which is ‘basic scientific research’ or is the minimum necessary for making patent applications.
What happens if the technology can be used both for licensable and No Licence Required (NLR) goods?
If the technology is capable of being ‘required’ for licensable goods, then a licence will be needed, even if it is being exported or transferred in connection with NLR goods.
How can technology be transferred?
Technology can be transferred by physical means, such as posting or hand-carrying a document overseas, or by carrying a laptop or memory device on which the technology is stored.
It can also be transferred by electronic means such as email, fax, file downloads and transfers, or by remote access from overseas.
Do I therefore need to apply for a licence every time I want to send an email?
No. A licence is issued to cover a project or series of transactions.
Does a telephone conversation constitute a transfer of technology?
Only if you are reading out a document word for word and it is being transcribed at the other end.
Is an export licence required when I place information on a server in the UK if the information is going to be accessed from overseas?
Yes, since it involves the act of being accessed overseas.
I want to place data on a server which is physically located overseas but the data will only be accessed by UK-based employees. Do I need an export licence?
If you can ensure that information is not accessed from outside the UK (including by system administrators), then you would not need a licence.
Do I require an export licence for information which is in my head?
Does providing a service such as repair, training or consultancy constitute technology transfer?
No. This is known as Technical Assistance. However if a service engineer takes documentation overseas in servicing goods or technology then the documentation would be licensable. You would need to consider this aspect if using technology.
When do we need to have licences to transfer technology within the UK?
If the technology meets the definition of ‘WMD (weapons of mass destruction) purposes’ and you know, or have been informed, that it is going to be used for that purpose outside the European Union, a licence will be needed to transfer the technology within the UK.
How does the ECO control electronic transfers?
ECO expects companies to demonstrate compliance. HM Revenue & Customs will seek to identify those not complying with the controls. Essentially, if the technology needs a licence to be exported or transferred, get a licence in place and ensure full compliance.
You should be aware that you risk prosecution - either a fine or a jail sentence - along with attendance of loss of business reputation - for misuse of technology.
Do licences for technology have a time limit?
The only Open General Licence (OGL) that has a time limit is the remote access OGL. See the guide on Military Goods Open General Export Licences. Those using it have to be out of the country for a period of time of less than three months. Open Individual Licences are usually valid for up to five years.
What does ‘in the public domain’ mean?
In the public domain means the information is made available without any restrictions, other than copyright, being placed on further dissemination. For instance, information you place on your website that anyone can download or that you publish in a sales brochure would be ‘in the public domain’.
However, if the information has a security classification or you require a non-disclosure agreement to be in place before you share it or if there are any other intellectual property restrictions, then the information is clearly not in the public domain.
If a drawing is ‘in the public domain’, but the goods it refers to are licensable, does the drawing need a licence?
No, technology ‘in the public domain’ does not need a licence.
The information needed to design our type of product is all available in text books. Surely then our technology is in the public domain?
Our product contains software which is open source. Does that mean our product does not need a licence?
The answer to both questions is the same. Only if your specific technology is freely available without restriction is it considered to be in the public domain. The availability of generic information or of similar information from other sources is irrelevant. You would need a licence in both cases.
BIS ECO Helpline
020 7215 4594 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: 9 August 2012
Updated: 28 November 2014
- Text updated in line with Export Control Order 2008.
- Amended broken links and added related guides
- First published.
Related guides: Weapons of mass destruction: End-Use Control Electronic transfer abroad of controlled military technology and software Do I need an export licence? Military Goods Open General Export Licences Compliance and enforcement of export controls Export control legislation for UK academics and researchers Supplementary Weapons of Mass Destruction End-Use controls UK Strategic Export Control Lists