Griffith Hack Clean & Sustainable Technologies

IP stand off set to block global climate agreement by Justin Blows
A very negative view of clean and sustainable IP is being promulgated by many of the developing nations.  As reported here, the Brazilian government is strongly in favour of compulsory licencing of clean technologies, and the Indian government is of the opinion that all clean IP should be used for the public goodHere, it is reported that China called for new rules allowing confiscation of patents through compulsory licensing of “environmentally sound technologies”.  These comments stand for the voiding of IP rights associated with clean technology.
Will an IP stand off between developed and developing nations block a global climate agreement?

Will an IP stand off between developed and developing nations block a global climate agreement?

On the other hand, the developed nations are very strongly against weakening IP rights.  This is becoming a major political issue in the US.  As reported in a previous entry, the US is to establish new policy that will oppose any global climate change treaty that weakens the IP rights (particularly patents) of American “green technology.”  This is, apparently, in preparation of the Copenhagen meeting in December as part of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. 
It appears that this disagreement on IP may be a major obstacle in reaching a global agreement on limiting green house gas emissions.  The developing nations appear to be demanding the weakening of IP rights in return for signing an agreement in Copenhagen later this year, as reported here.

Detractors of strong IP protection do not appreciate that it is free enterprise that is charged with the task of developing climate change mitigation and adaption technologies.  Free enterprise will not be motivated to do so unless there are mechanisms, such as patents, to ensure that their investment in:

  • research and development
  • training people
  • plant
  • developing supporting industry and 
  • changing the regulatory environment, for example,

are not eroded by others riding 0n their coat tails.

Free enterprise is propelled forward by investment and patents facilitate a return on what is intrinsically a risky investment in developing technologies.  Without protection of that investment it will be more difficult to find the investment that will push the climate change technologies we need into the market.

Around 70% of global R&D in green technology is spent by the private sector, around US$750 billion dollars a year (and rising), says Carl Horton, the Chief IP Counsel of General Electric (GE) in the web seminar Patenting Green: The Intersection of Patents and Green TechnologyMr Horton also believes that green technology transfer from the developed world to Brazil, India and China is currently progressing well largely because of the IP protection provided by these countries.  He is worried that technology transfer will stall if IP rights are weakened.  GE is one of the biggest generators of clean and sustainable technologies.

Patents facilitate licensing and diffusion of technologies.  Without a patent what exactly are you transferring?  A patent provides a well defined right, providing legal clarity and certainty in technology transfer transactions.

Weakening IP rights would undermine, not assist, clean technology transfer.  It will also undermine green free enterprise, erroding their business, new jobs, and national income.

The Pope wants weaker IP rights to promote technology transfer to the developing world

The Pope beleives weaker IP rights would promote tech transfer to the developing world

In a regrettable and worrying development, Pope Benedict XVI has also put forward a negative view on the role of intellectual property, presumably patents in particular,  in the transfer of technology from the developed to the developing world.  The Pope’s comments was used by some NGO’s at the recent G8 summit to argue that developing nations needed IP concessions (or even free IP) so that they can afford clean and sustainable (low carbon) technologies, as reported here.

 The Pope’s comments were made in ENCYCLICAL LETTER CARITAS IN VERITATE, and the most relevant section is copied below in bold text although it is interesting to read the whole section:

22. Today the picture of development has many overlapping layers. The actors and the causes in both underdevelopment and development are manifold, the faults and the merits are differentiated. This fact should prompt us to liberate ourselves from ideologies, which often oversimplify reality in artificial ways, and it should lead us to examine objectively the full human dimension of the problems. As John Paul II has already observed, the demarcation line between rich and poor countries is no longer as clear as it was at the time of Populorum Progressio[55]. The world’s wealth is growing in absolute terms, but inequalities are on the increase. In rich countries, new sectors of society are succumbing to poverty and new forms of poverty are emerging. In poorer areas some groups enjoy a sort of “superdevelopment” of a wasteful and consumerist kind which forms an unacceptable contrast with the ongoing situations of dehumanizing deprivation. “The scandal of glaring inequalities”[56] continues. Corruption and illegality are unfortunately evident in the conduct of the economic and political class in rich countries, both old and new, as well as in poor ones. Among those who sometimes fail to respect the human rights of workers are large multinational companies as well as local producers. International aid has often been diverted from its proper ends, through irresponsible actions both within the chain of donors and within that of the beneficiaries. Similarly, in the context of immaterial or cultural causes of development and underdevelopment, we find these same patterns of responsibility reproduced. On the part of rich countries there is excessive zeal for protecting knowledge through an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property, especially in the field of health care. At the same time, in some poor countries, cultural models and social norms of behaviour persist which hinder the process of development.

In my opinion, the Pope has received advice that, regrettably, is ignorant of the role IP plays.

Clearly, the debate about the role of IP in transferring clean and sustainable technologies to the developing world is now a main stream issue.

Justin Blows


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