In recent years in advanced industrialized countries, there has been a general re-assessment of the roles of national laboratories. A common trend has been to encourage exploitation of their resources by increasing the flow of technology to industry. The form that this takes varies between countries. The UK has adopted more radical policies than most other European countries. The paper argues that although there have been some gains as laboratories have provided an expanding range of services and products to industry (e.g. consultancy and software), there are also some considerable drawbacks to the UK's course of action. This contention is supported by a comparison of similar institutions in the UK, France and Belgium.