Griffith Hack Clean & Sustainable Technologies


Intellectual property and renewable Energy Technologies by Justin Blows

I came across this new & excellent report from Chatham House: Who owns our law carbon future?  Intellectual Property and Energy Technologies.

Firstly, let’s get the debate about whether patents are a barrier to the introduction of climate change mitigation technology to the developing world out of the way.  The report repeats others that the real issue is not the accessibility of technologies or the price of the patents, but the lack of capital and management in the developing world. Focusing on patents is a distraction from the main issues.  Similar arguments have been presented in report after report and I haven’t seen a credible response.  Please leave a comment if you have one!  Import tarrifs has also been cited as a problem elsewhere.

What jumped out at me was a great  discussion on common business strategies for using patents that we may see repeated in the growing renewable energy, or indeed any other cleantech, space, together with examples.

Enforcing patents is one business strategy.  The report cites the case of Samsung being sued by Texas instruments in the 1980s damaging its brand and blocking the US market to Samsung.  After vastly improving its patenting strategy the tables were turned and by the 1990’s Samsung was suing Texas instruments.  But the outcome of litigation is often uncertain.

Some of the multiple business strategies based around licensing may be a far better approach. Some business strategies include:

  • prototyping and licensing technologies;
  • granting a licence to a spin-out company;
  • divestiture licensing when a technology owner exits a business area;
  • controlled licensing to ration the flow of licenses to limit expansion of competitors;
  • pooling patents from multiple parties and sharing the licensing profits;
  • cross licensing technology in exchange to get access to technology you need;
  • establishing a technology standard based around the IP brought to the table by multiple parties, each piece of IP being essential to the standard
  • licencing to those you outsource production to;
  • license to influence the strategic development path of technologies; and
  • being a patent troll, that is enforcing your patents even though you have no intention to practise or develop the technology yourself, a somewhat contentious strategy.

The mobile telephone industry, for example, likes technology standards. In the case of the AirBus 380 the aircraft, the industry used patent pools and licensing for production.  I can see that these issues are going to be very important for areas such as, for example, clean coal were many large players are going to end up with large patent portfolios.

Justin Blows

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Sustainable Energy – without the hot air by Justin Blows

I’m currently reading the free book Sustainable Energy – without the hot air by David JC MacKay, an academic from The University of Cambridge.

I’m impressed.  This book convincingly investigates the energy needs  of an average  person (including food, transport, space heating, light, stuff, farming, gadgets) in the developed world and explores energy options for a sustainable future.  The emphasis is on estimating hard numbers for the limits of what can be physically achieved.  While written for the UK specifically, many of the lessons will hold for Australia and other countries.

The book convincingly argues that a sustainable energy future is possible, but wow, big changes are on the way.

Justin Blows