Are IPRs Hindering Knowledge Transfer of Green Technologies?

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Significant climatic changes seem to be bogging the entire world. If global warming took the centre stage in climatic worries until the last decade, droughts, storms and tsunamis are taking meteorologists by surprise now. In order to address these changes, inventors have been coming up with innovative patterns of power productions and consumption.

Back in 2010, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) established a Technology Mechanism to ensure quick development and adaptation of newer technologies that help solve woes arising out of climate change. However, a huge contention in this effort by the UNFCCC is the issue of intellectual property rights (IPRs) – are they acting as a barrier for transfer of technologies addressing climate change issues? The 18th UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP), held in Doha in November 2012, deliberated on this issue following a report by the Technology Executive Committee (TEC). The discussions identified IPRs “as an area for which clarity would be needed on its role in the development and transfer of climate technologies based upon evidence on a case by case basis”.

At least seven industrialized and two developing countries have active patent systems in place for green technologies. With such stringent actions to ensure the protection of intellectual property, there is a growing need to fast-track the patent system for green technologies.  Antoine Dechezleprêtre from the London School of Economics and Political Science for the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) recently filed a report on “Fast-Tracking Green Patent Applications, an empirical analysis”, which offers a pragmatic view on the increasing need to offer patent grants quickly to green technologies and bring them into action to help alleviate woes caused by climatic changes.

Showing both sides of the coin, Antoine’s report states that the fast-tracking system, though effective, is highly underutilized. Adopting a fast-tracking system can bring down the patent examination process time by at least 75% in the UK alone. However, its underutilization has vastly been observed during the period of 2009-2012 when the US held the numero uno position with the highest number of green technology patents fast-tracked standing only at 3,533 cases, and Australia at the bottom of the scale with just 43 applications.

Stressing on the need to accelerate this process, the research reiterates that fast-tracking programs have accelerated knowledge diffusion in green technologies as early as in the first year of their publication – “[There is a] need for more information about the licensing practice of companies using fast-tracking programs to understand the extent to which these programs accelerate the diffusion of green-patented technologies through licensing in particular in developing countries”. Hence, while it tends to incline towards a debatable point that IPRs are not necessarily a barrier to transfer of climate change technologies, there is a dire need today to fast-track such patent applications to ensure quick deployment of innovations.

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