Griffith Hack Clean & Sustainable Technologies

Call for Applications for Green Car Innovation Fund by Griffith Hack
April 30, 2009, 10:03 am
Filed under: News

The Federal Government has announced it is ready to receive applications for funding for research, development and early stage commercialisation of green automotive technologies under its $1.3 billion Green Car Innovation Fund.

The fund will provide assistance, on a co-investment basis, over ten years to design, develop and manufacture low-emission, fuel-efficient cars and components in Australia. It is part of the Federal Government’s $6.2 billion New Car Plan for a Greener Future.

Grants under the fund will be offered on a competitive basis of one dollar of government funding to three dollars of investment from the applicant. The program will be delivered under two streams:

– motor vehicle producers (MVP) will be able to apply for grants of $5 million or more; and

– applicants other than the MVPs will be able to apply for grants of $100,000 or more.

Applications can be lodged at any time and funding will flow from 1 July 2009.

More information on the Green Car Innovation Fund is at

A Case Study for the Sustainable Revolution by Griffith Hack
April 24, 2009, 4:20 pm
Filed under: Articles | Tags: , ,

In this article taken from Australian Anthill Magazine (April/May/June edition), Justin Blows discusses the importance of getting Intellectual Property in order from the get go, with a particular focus on emerging clean and sustainable businesses.

Permission for use given by Australian Anthill Magazine.

Solar storage for Whyalla by Justin Blows
April 23, 2009, 2:51 pm
Filed under: News | Tags: , ,

According to this report, Whyalla in South Australia is to build a solar thermal storage plant.

The debate surrounding patents and low carbon technology is heating up by Justin Blows
Tim Wilson

Tim Wilson

Last week the latest United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting concluded in Bonn, Germany. A core focus of the meeting’s work program was the role of technology to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in a post-Kyoto agreement, and rightly so.

If a post-Kyoto agreement is to be negotiated at the December Copenhagen meeting later this year it is likely to include emissions reduction targets for developing and developed countries alike. Developing countries are particularly sensitive about reducing emissions when their economies still require significant growth to lift people out of poverty. Technology provides the opportunity to reduce emissions and continue economic growth.

Technology matters because it provides options to reduce emissions from existing sources of energy (such as carbon capture and storage), decrease demand for energy through more efficient consumption (such as fluorescent lamps) and utilise new low/no-emissions energy production (such as solar panels and wind farm).

There is no dispute about the vital role of low-carbon technologies in achieving carbon dioxide reduction targets. At the Bonn UNFCCC meeting Indian government official, Ajay Mathur, argued “technology is the only way”.[1]

But there is a problem many developing countries are raising in accessing these technologies – price. Low-carbon technologies are often expensive, especially on the scale required for developing countries to meet prospective emissions reduction commitments. And many are blaming patents.

Opponents of patents on low-carbon technology are arguing they unnecessarily increase the price of technologies and therefore reduce access and technology transfer. Their solution is to reinvent the campaign against patents on pharmaceuticals by arguing for compulsory licensing options.

In submissions to a working group of the UNFCCC countries submitted their ideas of what should be included in a post-Kyoto agreement. Submissions from a number of countries identified the need for looking at the role patents play in technology transfer. The submission from China called for policy instruments to be considered, including “compulsory licensing for patented ESTs (environmentally sound technologies), etc.”.[2]

Similar proposals were put by Cuba. They argued “technology mechanism(s) should also give consideration to the role of patent protection and IPR’s along with an examination of their impact on the access to and transfer of technology that may significantly booster (sic) the capacity of developing countries to address climate change”.[3]

These proposals are only the latest salvo in the campaign against patents on low-carbon technology.

The campaign originated in 2007 around that year’s G8 meeting. In the lead up to the meeting press reports called for “an agreement on … IPRS on technological efforts in developing countries paralleling the successful agreement on compulsory licensing of pharmaceuticals”.[4]

Some activists are going further, than compulsory licensing. International NGO, Friends of the Earth, has called for the removal of patents on low-carbon technology all together. Friends of the Earth has advocated “amend(ing) TRIPs (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) … so that developing countries can exclude from patentability green technologies”.[5]

And the campaign gained significant traction at the December 2007 UNFCCC Bali Summit. During the Bali Summit there was an informal meeting of Trade Ministers discussing the relationship between climate change and trade policy. At a side-event on the Monday following the informal meeting Indonesian Trade Minister, Mari Pangestu, commented that Trade Ministers discussed using flexibilities provided for in the World Trade Organisation’s TRIPS Agreement.

TRIPS currently provides for countries to compulsory license patented technologies in cases of “national emergency or other circumstances of extreme urgency or in cases of public non-commercial use”.[6] But the flexibility mechanisms were primarily designed for use in the case of pharmaceuticals, not low-carbon technology.

By the end of the Bali Summit developing countries had negotiated for anti-IP language into the Bali Road Map, stating countries should avoid “intellectual property rights policies, or lack thereof, restricting transfer of technologies”.[7] And it is within the context of this language that governments are now strongly pushing against patents on low carbon technology.

But the text of the Bali Road Map also hit on an important point – a lack of intellectual property rights can also negatively impact on the diffusion of technology.

The World Bank has found that weak IP regimes are undermining the transfer of climate friendly technologies.[8] Professor Barton of Stanford Law School has come to similar conclusions, arguing intellectual property is not a “significant” barrier to technology transfer of low-carbon technology and that weak IP regimes provide disincentives for foreign investors to transfer their technology.[9]

The Stern Review came to similar conclusions arguing “there are a number of measures that governments can take to create a suitable investment climate for energy investment and the adoption of new technologies, such as … strengthening intellectual property rights”.[10]

And removing patents will have a very real impact on innovation of next-generation low carbon technologies. Patents provide the temporary property right to offset the risks associated with investment into speculative innovation. Many low carbon technologies are incredibly immature. As Chris Israel from the Institute for Policy Innovation argued in his paper on the subject matter, the low carbon technology industry is at a comparable stage as the semiconductor and biotechnology industries were 35 and 25 years ago respectively.[11]

Attacking patents is a distraction from the real challenges that face reducing the cost of low carbon technologies. Low carbon technologies are often expensive because of the costs of adaptation of the individual technology and labor and material costs. The cost impact of a patent on a wind farm is miniscule in comparison to the labor and material costs of its construction. Similarly, the cost impact of a patent for adapting a coal fire powered power plant to be able to capture carbon dioxide for storage is also insignificant to the labor and material costs.

But the cost barrier of these technologies is real. However, countries can do something to reduce the cost of low-carbon technology – remove taxes and tariffs. A 2007 World Bank report International Trade and Climate Change, investigated the role of tariff barriers on ‘green’ technologies. The study found that the diffusion of technologies would increase by between 7 and 14 per cent per year based on different models of liberalisation.[12]

Applied average tariff and NTBs for climate friendly technologies in the 18 high-GHG-emitting developing countries


And the table above identifies why tariffs are a problem. Amongst the top 18 developing country emitters of greenhouse gases, the combined tariff and non-tariff barriers can be as high as 165 per cent on some technologies.

Simplistically removing patents may appear to support the diffusion of low carbon technologies, but it will actually undermine it. Removing patents will discourage investment and undermine the tradable nature of property rights that patents confer. Undermining licensing of these technologies will discourage foreign direct investment (FDI) into developing countries to transfer technologies.

The cost of undermining patents is well understood. Hence previous international environmental treaties, including the Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and the Kyoto Protocol, recognise the contribution that property rights play in transferring environmental technologies to the countries that need them. Sometimes history is worth repeating. 

Tim Wilson is Director of the IP and Free Trade Unit at the Institute of Public Affairs –

1 ___, 07/04/2009, “India has a bright idea at climate talks”, The Hindu, at
2 Government of China, 06/02/2009, “China’s views on the fulfilment of the Bali Action Plan and the components of the agreed outcome to be adopted by the conference of the parties at its 15th session”, Paper Number 5 in the “United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action under the Convention”, 13/03/2009
3 Government of Cuba, 13/03/2009, “The fulfilment of the Bali Action Plan and the components of the agreed outcome to be adopted by the Conference of the Parties at its fifteenth session (AWG-LCA). Submission of Views”, , Paper Number 7 in the “United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action under the Convention”, 13/03/2009
4 Madhavan, N., 06/06/2007, “China and India set to make common cause on global warming”, Hindustan Times, 06/06/2007, at
5 Raman, M., 27/06/2007, “Climate and Trade”, Friends of the Earth International and Malaysia, p2
6 World Trade Organisation, 1995, “Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement”
7 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2007, “Bali Road Map”, p18
8 World Bank, 2007, “International Trade and Climate Change: Economic, Legal and Institutional Perspectives”, p59
9 Barton, J., 02/2008, “Patenting and access to clean energy technologies in developing countries”, WIPO Magazine, at
10 Stern, N., “Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change”, Part IV, 2006, p6
11 Israel, C., 05/2008, “Don’t kill the green goose: The Importance of Stimulating and Rewarding Clean Energy Breakthroughs”, IPI Ideas, n48, p1
12 World Bank, 2007, “International Trade and Climate Change: Economic, Legal and Institutional Perspectives”, p53

Patent reform: Good or bad for Australia’s clean and sustainable industry? by Justin Blows

The Australian government, through IP Australia, believes that Australian patentability standards are too low, particularly the threshold for inventive step and the level of disclosure required. It argues the case in this recent report. Patents, it is argued, reward invention of sufficient merit by granting a monopoly of limited term in return for a full disclosure of the invention so that others can perform it after the monopoly ceases.

IP Australia believes that now the deal is too favourable for the patentee, especially those of incremental inventions. Consequently, they propose that the inventive step threshold and disclosure requirements be raised.

Will Australian patent reform throw the cleantech baby out with the bathwater?

Will Australian patent reform throw the cleantech baby out with the bathwater?

The wrong patent reform may severely damage both the Australian clean and sustainable technologies industry and the Australian economy. Let’s get this straight: this is a big deal. The biggest economic opportunity for countries like Australia is, in the opinion of economists like Nicolas Stern, a mass exploitation of clean and sustainable technologies. This has the potential to create wealth on the same scale as the introduction of the railways, electricity, cars, and information technology, for example. Some of these technologies are going to be old, like roof insulation and energy efficiency, but others, like solar and green vehicles, will be new technologies. The economic rewards for a vibrant clean and sustainable technologies industry in Australia are potentially very large.

The consultation brings up the contentious topic of patent thickets which are, according to the paper, an overlapping set of patent rights requiring those who wish to commercialise new technology to seek multiple licenses from multiple patentees. The paper notes that patent thickets are most likely to occur in complex technologies. Clean and sustainable technologies – such as the smart grid and solar cells – are complex technologies. Many advances in clean and sustainable technologies are not so much disruptive, as incremental in nature.

Surely, however, that is not to say that the advances do not deserve protection and reward?  The older variants of the technology, for which patent protection has expired, are still available for use, and not locked away. Surely the existence of the older variants ensures that any mark up reflects an increase in efficiency attributable to the patented improvement? Surely this is the right approach, and one that is well argued in the report Are IPR a Barrier to the Transfer of Climate Change Technology. How else would clean and sustainable technology innovation be encouraged? While so called patent thickets are often raised as an issue, in practice these problems are usually solved quite effectively by cross-licensing, creating standard-setting bodies and by developing patent pools where these do not breach competition laws, as is well argued in the report Intellectual property rights: The Catalyst to Deliver Low Carbon Technologies.

The first patent thicket precipitated the Sewing Machine War of the 1850’s. The sewing machine was, in the context of the period a staggering invention, immensely complicated, and of enourmous social and industrial consequence. It mechanized sewing and clothing production, freeing countless seamstresses from appalling working conditions. And, there was a lot of money to be made in the making and selling of sewing machines. This opportunity was not lost on the many inventors that each invented one or more of the approximately ten ‘breakthrough’ elements required to make the machine function.

Would have the sewing machine been invented if each of these inventors had no way of being paid for their individual contribution? As described in this excellent paper by Adam Mossoff, the inventors respective patents allowed them to find their own commercial solution – in this case by pooling their patent together and selling licenses to other manufacturers – which enabled each of the inventors to profit. Could convoluted legislation really find such a creative and satisfactory solution to what is essentially a commercial problem of rewarding inventors or their companies?

Mossoff argues that the current discourse on patent thickets is empirically impoverished and, by implication, disconnected with the commercial realities of getting technology to market. The solution of the Sewing Machine War, for example, reveals the innovative ways in which patent-owners can rescue themselves from commercial gridlock, and in so doing, unleash an explosion in productivity and innovation in a product that was central to the success of the Industrial solution. If legislative change was not needed for the industrial revolution, why is it needed for the clean and sustainable technology revolution?

Indeed, it is often assumed that ‘incremental’ inventions are not as worthy of patent protection, but the story of the Sewing Machine War shows that important innovation happens in a series of seemingly incremental inventions, and that incremental inventions need every bit as much encouragement by the patent system as ‘eureka’ inventions. The powerful personal computers of today are very different from those 25 year ago, but do you remember like I do that the difference from one year to the next was never staggering?  

Raising the bar will make it easier to invalidate a patent but there is no evidence to my knowledge that Australian clean and sustainable technology patents actually suffer from a quality problem. Rather, raising the bar may have the perverse effect of increasing the costs and effort required for obtaining a patent. An attorney may feel obliged to draft a thicker specification containing information that every one knows anyway. The attorney may also need to argue with a patent examiner over legal technicalities that have little connection with the true value of the patent. Raising the bar may also encourage lawyers to ‘have a go’ at a patent on legal technicalities that, again, have little connection with its true value. The reforms may also encourage infringement of patent rights because the infringer will have a greater opportunity to invalidate the patent they infringe. Once it is understood that patent rights have been devalued in Australia, the venture capital essential for the success of many clean and sustainable technology companies will be more difficult to obtain, slowing down the development of the industry.

Rather than aid the clean and sustainable technology industry the reforms have the potential to bog down the industry in patent prosecution and litigation. Perversely, the proposed changes may actually lessen industries’ use of the patent system and decrease the rate of innovation that the patent system seeks to foster, at least for the Clean and sustainable technology industry. This may leave commercially important Australian inventions unprotected. Australian industry is sensitive to patent related costs. Australia may fail to develop its own strong and prosperous clean and sustainable technology industry and the economic benefits and green jobs that it will create. Less patent applications means fewer disclosures of new technologies. Some of these new technologies may instead be kept secret and be forever unavailable to others. This would hinder the diffusion of clean and sustainable technologies during a time when the planet desperately needs them.

One has to wonder whether the backlog of patents waiting to be examined by IP Australia is a major motivation for the proposed changes. Rather than employ enough high quality examiners to enforce the existing patent standards in a timely fashion, is IP Australia being pressured to cut corners and save costs by raising the bar to drive down the number of patent applications filed? That can’t be good for protecting Australia’s clean and sustainable technologies.

How is this for an idea: Why don’t we recognise the very important work IP Australia and its examiners do and give them the support they need for top-notch and timely patent examinations. Australian patent quality may be significantly improved by more rigorous examination against the existing patentability standards, without having to raise the bar.

Finally, for the interested, IP Australia is particularly concerned with the legal concepts of inventive step, full description and fair basis. These can be quite tricky to apply, however all of them are prerequisites for an invention to be patentable. An invention that is not obvious to a Person Skilled in the Art in light of the prior art has an inventive step. The patent specification must describe the invention fully, including the best method known to the applicant of performing the invention. The claims must be fairly based on the matter disclosed in the specification.

Justin Blows

Chinese company protects waste heat recovery process by Justin Blows

In yet another sign that the Peoples Republic of China is taking clean and sustainable technologies seriously, according to this report, the growth rate of cleantech patent registrations in emerging market economies, particularly China, is 545%.  The growth rate is measured for registrations over the period 2004-2007 compared to 1998-2001.  The world wide growth rate, for comparison, is 120%.

A great example is China Energy Recovery, Inc.  Its expertise is industrial waste heat recovery, otherwise known as energy recycling.  As reported here, it has protected a waste heat recovery process for the cement manufacturing industry.  With its massive growth and levels of construction, cement manufacture is a major industry in China.

Cement manufacturing uses huge amounts of energy and is a major source of green house gases. About 2% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions have been attributed to burning fossil fuels for the manufacture of cement.  Cement is made by heating limestone with small quantities of other materials (such as clay) to 1450°C in a kiln.  That’s a very high temperature – more than enough to make large amounts of steam for a steam turbine generator or for use in another industrial process.

The waste heat captured by, for example, China Energy Recovery’s technology can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase energy efficiency.

View of the interior of a cement kiln

View of the interior of a cement kiln

Waste heat recovery is a big deal.  Apparently, it is estimated that if all the energy currently wasted by all the U.S. industrial facilities could be recovered, it could produce power equivalent to 20% of the U.S. electricity generation capacity.  As such, it represents one of the ‘low hanging fruit’ in the quest for carbon abatement, and a massive opportunity for those that have protected their technology.

Justin Blows

The 4th annual Hot Rock Energy conference by Griffith Hack
April 15, 2009, 2:25 pm
Filed under: Conferences

Since their inaugural event in October 2004 – the first ever national gathering of the geothermal sector, they have been supplying this fast-growing industry with vital information on geo-scientific data, project updates, investment opportunities, technology challenges, international, national and state perspectives.

With prospective geothermal resources identified in every Australian state, the potential for this clean base-load energy in Australia is enormous. And a great contributor to the country energy mix.

For further information on the 4th annual Hot Rock Energy conference, please click on the below link: