“I really don’t think they have thought this through. A world without intellectual property rights would be a pretty horrible place to live. There would be no investment in new technologies.”
~Michael Taylor of CIED
The European Patent Office (EPO) is studying the growth in eco-innovation since the introduction of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. Although the current economic climate has caused a decline in the number of patent applications, the study will look at how the green patent landscape has evolved since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and examine how companies have responded to incentives and policy signals. The report was originally planned to coincide with next month’s UN climate summit in Copenhagen but it is now expected to be out in time for a 2010 conference.
Raw data from the EPO shows that patent applications for environmental technologies indicate rapid growth. In the ten years from 1998, patent applications for new energy innovations grew by an average of 6% per year. Wind power, fuel cells, solar thermal and photovoltaic energy technologies have shown the strongest growth since the late 1990s. The US, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands have the highest number of applications in the new energy sector thanks to General Electric, Siemens and Nissan.
Just as the eco-party is getting started, China and India have hinted at turning off the music by suggesting that new green technology should be subject to compulsory licensing (where a government forces the holder of a patent or other exclusive right to grant use to the state or others usually with some royalties set by law or determined through some form of arbitration). China and India claim that developed countries are primarily responsible for climate change so the EU and US should support poorer nations by providing them with clean technologies.
According to Inside US Trade, the US chamber of commerce is gearing up for a fight to limit the access of developing countries to environmentally sound technologies (ESTs). They fear that international climate change negotiations taking place under the United Nations, will erode the position of corporations holding patents on existing and future technologies.
As you can imagine, deciding which technologies could be shared and on what terms is pretty contentious. Especially since many green technologies and innovations have dual use, if not more. Just what is green technology? Greener than what? Does it include greenwashing technologies?
The idea of breaking patents is not new but compulsory licensing has to date only been used in emergency (or pseudo-emergency) situations where patent-protected pharmaceuticals were seen as prohibitively expensive. The Brazil government used the system to break the patent on the HIV drug Storcrin (the brand name for efavirenz) after Brazil’s President signed a compulsory license for efavirenz under provisions permitted by World Trade Organization rules. This year, Brazil agreed to buy five French submarines, one of them with nuclear propulsion, and 50 helicopters for about $12 billion.
The Group of 77, the largest intergovernmental organization of developing states in the United Nations — and really covering 130 countries since originally forming in 1964, tries to promote economic interests within the United Nations system. The Group of 77, mainly through China as a spokesperson, wants to apply this same principle to energy efficiency.
The Coalition for Innovation, Employment and Development (CIED), a think-tank strongly in favor of intellectual property rights, has published a report showing that ending patent protection on clean technologies poses a great threat to European industry and jobs. The Clean Technology and European Jobs Study shows a strong intellectual property (IP) system will support the development of green technologies and the creation of over 2 million jobs in the European Union (EU) over the next 20 years.
Climate change will be top of the agenda when leaders meet at the 12th EU-China Summit in Nanjing on November 20.