Griffith Hack Clean & Sustainable Technologies

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


Are clean energy patents a financial asset? by Griffith Hack

Most organisations file patents to protect and maximise the value of products and processes that they are planning to develop themselves. However some organisations instead aim to benefit by selling or licensing their patents to other parties.

Selling or licensing patents is a complex activity, and increasingly organisations are arising especially to manage this activity, either on a commission or brokerage basis, or by buying these patents themselves and seeking new buyers. Effectively these latter types of organisation become a type of investment bank, using patents as an investment asset rather than investments in other companies. These organisations were recently discussed by the Economist.

So what does this mean for innovators in the clean energy space? Clean energy is attracting a lot of money and interest at the moment. Many technologies are comparatively new, and it may be possible to file broad patents. Innovators who are developing the right products and filing the right patents may have an alternative means of commercialising their intellectual property; namely selling or licensing IP to patent brokers.

However innovators can be assured that such brokers will look very carefully at the quality of the patent applications and patents secured, as often the patent is the main asset being sold. Innovators need to be very careful about their patent applications, patent strategy and the prior art in their technology areas, and seek careful advice.

Mike Lloyd

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

Hate cleantech patents? Look here! by Justin Blows
August 18, 2009, 4:41 pm
Filed under: News | Tags: , ,

Not all commentators are fans of the patent system when applied to clean technologies.

Some people like the free software guru Richard Stallman don't like patents

Some people, like the free software guru Richard Stallman, don't like patents

This article contains various opinions as to why the patent system should be changed (or side lined) when it comes to clean and sustainable technologies.

Is it just me or are the views of these academics disconnected from our world –  were it is free enterprise that is charged with developing climate change mitigation technologies?

Justin Blows