Griffith Hack Clean & Sustainable Technologies

Windorah – Australia’s first large solar town by Justin Blows
October 16, 2009, 8:37 am
Filed under: Feature

According to this report, a new solar power station – the first in Queensland – opens today in Windorah. Apparently, it is the first large scale attempt for an Australian town to run off solar power.

Justin Blows


Ocean Energy – the wave of the future? by Griffith Hack

Although solar, wind and clean coal continue to attract the majority of the attention as clean energy options for the future, wave and tidal power may also play a major part in future energy production.

A recent visit to the All Energy Conference  showed that there are at least three Australian companies developing wave technology. Namely: Biopower, Oceanlinx and CETCO, who are all developing alternative means of capturing wave or tidal energy. 

New Zealand is also at the forefront of investing in wave power, with 14 different projects considered, ranging from capturing the deep sea energy in the Cook Strait that separates Wellington from the South Island; to capturing the energy in the strong tides in one of New Zealand’s largest harbours.

Wave power has tremendous potential as base load power as it is pretty reliable and available twenty four hours a day.  However, there are also likely to be significant engineering challenges such as maintenance in some extreme environments.  The combination of economic potential and engineering challenges is leading inventors to come up with a whole range of quite different solutions.

No one solution has started to dominate yet.  From an IP viewpoint, this makes wave power perhaps more interesting than some other clean technologies, where the engineering is now starting to mature.

Another important question that developers need to consider is the breadth of the claims of their patents and their competitor’s patents.  A smart innovator might find that while their patented invention did not succeed in its own right, their patents do claim a more successful invention developed by another company.  Or vice-versa.

I for one will be watching this space with much interest in the future.

Mike Lloyd

China breaths fire on Clean IP by Justin Blows
October 15, 2009, 8:27 am
Filed under: Feature

This recent article states that the Chinese environmental technologies market, including renewable energy, is expected to be one trillion US dollars by 2013.  Some foreign companies are taping into this market.  For example, First  Solar, an Arizona based solar company that manufactures solar modules recently won a contract to build a massive 2 GW solar field bigger than Manhattan. 

But many believe that China is raising trade barriers to the importation of renewable energy plant. At the same time China is complaining that patent rights to foreigners are a barrier to importation.  Both of these measures reduce the ability of non-Chinese companies to compete in the clean technology business in China.

So what exactly is China’s position on Clean IP?  I found this emotive news item in China View which puts forward the arguments for weakened patent rights.  The argument goes that weakened patent rights will  increase clean technology transfer into developing nations like China. China View does not hold back:

The developing world, victimized by greenhouse gas (GHG) releases in the West, not only suffer from extreme vagaries of weather that wreak havoc but also are forced to yield ground on development. They are facing costs of around 100 billion euros a year by 2020 and crying out for technology used to treat carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and other GHGs. Yet slow and slim technology transfer remains one of the biggest hurdles for their environmentally sound pathways.

And if you’re looking for particularly strong language …

Unfortunately, techno-rich industrialized nations cling to repulsive standards in technology trade and cross-border licensing. The current intellectual property right (IPR) regime is “unduly biased toward the owners rather than the users of technology”, said the UN World Economic and Social Survey 2009 released recently. Combined with the market power of multinationals in the advanced economies, such a regime could thwart global efforts in environment by suppressing low-emission uses of developing nations.


In reality cleantech transfer into China is strong.

Shi Zhengrong was educated at the University of New South Wales, Sydney Australia and started Suntech Power in China.  Suntech is a leading manufacturer of photovoltaic solar cells. Suntech made Dr Zhengrong the world’s first solar billionaire.  Suntech has plans to become a commercial superpower like oil company BP.  According to the China daily, in 2008, solar cell production in China accounted for 40 percent of the global output, and seven of the world’s top 15 solar cell manufacturers are Chinese companies.  In fact it is so successful that now the Chinese government wants to slow growth in the industry.

Suntech benefits commercially from a healthy patent portfolio.  That’s good – perhaps with the help of their patent portfolio they will become the energy giant they want to be, help develop China and mitigate climate change.

Wang Chuanfu is another Chinese billionaire. He founded and is the chairman of BYD, a company that manufactures electric cars and the lithium ion batteries that power them. Mr Wang turned out his first plug-in electric car for the market last year. The company has said that it plans to become China’s No 1 carmaker by 2015 and the world leader by 2025. Another case of successful clean technology transfer to China.

BYD also benefits from a healthy patent portfolio.

But if developing nations like China are benefiting from clean IP is there any reason to change the IP system as they are arguing?

Technology transfer and IP rights are going to be one of the big issues in the upcoming Copenhagen meeting. Developing nations believe IP rights are a barrier to the transfer of clean technologies but developed countries strongly defend IP.  But it appears that the arguments being put forward by developing nations, at least in the case of China, are exaggerations. Successful Chinese cleantech companies enjoy commercial success at least in part from their patent portfolios.

This issue may scuttle a global deal on climate change at Copenhagen. As reported in the American Chronicle, a recent 432-0 vote on an amendment to the US Foreign Relations Authorization Act was a signal that an overwhelming majority in the US Congress back intellectual property rights.  This position is directly opposed to China’s view.

In fact, Patents and other form of IP are part of the solution, not the problem.  Some things that are not pointed out by the author of the China View article:

  • Companies develop clean technology and need IP to protect their investment. Why would free enterprise spend all that money if others are going to copy?  The copyists are at an advantage because they do not have to spend on R&D, infrastructure, relationship building, working with governments etc.
  • Protected IP reassure investors that their investment is protected, stimulating investment in clean technologies.
  • Chinese industry has a history of infringement – are they trying to keep this ‘unfair’ advantage by diluting IP rights?
  • IP rights provide legal clarity and certainty for technology transfer – something that is not well understood. How do you licence a technology without a clear legal right? How is a company motivated to transfer out and diffuse technology if there is no transaction centered around a ‘tangible’ property right?  IP rights are part of the solution, not the problem.
  • IP strongly encourages joint ventures because the IP that comes out of the JV can be assigned as required in a structured and well defined way.

If you are interested in reading more about renewable energy and IP in China have a look at this post.

Justin Blows

Who Holds the power? Lessons from hybrid car innovation for clean technologies by Griffith Hack

Griffith Hack is pleased to announce the launch of the report: ‘Who holds the power? Lessons from hybrid car innovation for clean technologies.’

Australian companies and developers looking to benefit from the upcoming clean technology boom have been warned to think carefully about how they protect their ideas, following analysis of global patents in the rapidly expanding hybrid car market.

The report found that the market leader in hybrid technology has filed so many patents ahead of its rivals, that other major manufacturers are now being forced to use the technology ‘under licence’ or develop very different types of vehicles. This has very real implications for Australian innovators, including companies and researchers hoping to receive funding from the federal government’s $1.3 billion Green Car Innovation Fund.

As the report warns: “Failure to understand how companies compare to their competitors, may lead to wasted investment, infringement and a lack of commercial success.” “Growing concerns about energy security, climate change and pollution are motivating governments everywhere to introduce strong measures that favour innovation in clean technologies, such as hybrid cars,” notes co-author, Dr Justin Blows. “Our report shows that clean technology innovators are massively investing in IP, to ensure they remain competitive as the world moves into a new age of clean technology.”

Report co-author Mike Lloyd adds: “Hybrid car sales were non-existent until Toyota made a commitment to this sector after 1994, at a time when oil prices were low. The company’s initiative and aggressive patent filing strategy have, in turn, forced other motor companies to respond in a variety of ways. There are lessons here for all innovative companies, including those Australian organisations and individuals looking to make their mark on our motoring future.”

For the full report click here.

For further information on the report, please contact:

Mike Lloyd IP Portfolio Management Consultant Clean & Sustainable Technologies Group Griffith Hack
Tel: 03 9243 8315

Dr Justin Blows Patent Attorney Clean & Sustainable Technologies Group Griffith Hack
Tel: 02 9925 5938
Mob: 0425 215 470

Open innovation vs IP ownership in the clean IP space – are they necessarily opposed? by Griffith Hack
October 12, 2009, 11:31 am
Filed under: Articles | Tags: , , ,

The need for the world to develop new technologies to reduce the impact of greenhouse gases on the environment has led to calls by some to reduce the role of patents and other forms of IP in clean technologies. Patents and other IP provide a monopoly to their owners, which according to some pundits potentially reduces the spread and adoption of these planet saving technologies, potentially leaving us all worse off.

There are of course a wealth of reasons why IP ownership can help drive innovation by providing an incentive to invest in research and development. But maybe open innovation and IP ownership are not necessarily opposite approaches to development.

There is an argument being promoted by Marshall Phelps, IP Tsar for Microsoft, that clear IP ownership can actively help drive collaboration. Clear IP ownership gives IP owners and innovators the confidence take their ideas to market and look for collaborators and partners to help take these ideas forward.

The alternative to clear IP ownership in many cases is protecting new ideas as trade secrets or confidential information – which by its very nature will prevent the spread and likely slow the adoption of these ideas. In other words, IP ownership may actually assist open innovation….a radical thought for many, I know.

Mike Lloyd

Demand for strong IP protection of climate change mitigation technology by Justin Blows
October 12, 2009, 8:00 am
Filed under: Feature

According to this report, Tom Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said U.S. manufacturers would not invest in “alternative fuels and energy-saving devices and emission-reducing technologies if somebody is going to rip it off.” He was speaking in support of strong patent rights for climate change mitigation technology, and the demands of developing nations for greatly weakened protection.

Justin Blows

SunPower forces license on SunLink: Patent infringed by Justin Blows
October 11, 2009, 7:44 pm
Filed under: Feature | Tags: , , ,

According to this report,  Solar company SunPower has successfully used one of its patents to force SunLink to take a licence for its patented light weight rooftop mounting system.

Facing court action, SunLink acknowledged infringement and presumably settled to the financial and commercial advantage of SunPower.

SunPower presumably now has an extra revenue stream through their patents and license.  Now, profits from products produced and sold by SunLink may very well flow through to SunPower.

Its very likely that the use of patents by the solar industry will increase with its maturity.

Justin Blows