The clean tech industry is a fast growing global industry. Many patent offices around the world have implemented fast-track programs for clean tech patents. Patent activity in certain clean tech sectors appears to also have increased along with investment in those sectors.

Current Industry Trends

During 2008 to 2011, the top clean tech industry sectors were the wind, solar and biomass fuel sectors, respectively. However, investment in the solar sector grew at the fastest rate in 2011 with an increase of 44% to 128B while wind was second with investment of $72.1B and biofuels third with investment of $10B amongst G20 nations (http://www.pewenvironment.org/news-room/reports/whos-winning-the-clean-energy-race-2011-edition-85899381106).

In 2011, the U.S. was first in clean tech investment at $48B, followed by China at $45.5B, while the UK and Canada were at $9.4B and $5.5B respectively. However, there was a change in 2012, with U.S. clean tech investments falling to $35.6B and ranking second behind China at $65.1B amongst G20 nations. Interestingly, clean tech investments increased by 52% for smaller non-G20 nations to over $20B (about 8.5% of global clean tech investment) while there was an overall decline in clean tech investment for G20 nations (http://www.pewenvironment.org/news-room/reports/whos-winning-the-clean-energy-race-2012-edition-85899468949).

In 2012, Canada’s clean tech investment was estimated to be $4.4B which was about 3% of the global clean tech market and ranked 12th among G20 nations. Canada had 720 clean tech companies who spent about $1B collectively on R&D and about $100K on average for IP protection (www.techvibes.com/blog/canada-cleantech-industry-2012-10-30). Investments in clean tech were slightly different for Canada compared to global trends with investments in wind at $2.5B and solar at $1.7B, which was about 57% and 39%, respectively, of total Canadian clean tech investment.

Clean tech Patent Trends

A report on clean tech patents (www.cepgi.com) by the Clean tech group of Heslin, Rothenberg, Farley and Mesiti showed that the geographic distribution for global clean tech patents from 2002 to 2012 was 48% for the U.S., 26% for Japan, 8% for Germany, 2% Canada and 1% for the UK. The report also showed that for issued U.S. clean tech patents in 2012, fuel cells were first at 1,024 patents followed by solar at 862 patents and then wind although solar patents grew at the highest rate. For Canada, fuel cell and wind patents were 2% while solar and hybrid/electric vehicle patents were 1% of the global patents in these segments in 2012.

By the end of 2011, Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, Korea, the UK and the U.S. piloted fast-track clean tech patent programs. A study on these effectiveness of these programs (http://ictsd.org/downloads/2013/02/fast-tracking-green-patent-applications-an-empirical-analysis.pdf) showed that the U.S. had the greatest participation with 3,533 of the over 5,000 clean tech patent applications in these programs from roughly 2009 to 2012 (although these pilot programs were active for different amounts of time). The number of applications in these programs as a percentage of overall clean tech patent applications filed on an average annual basis was between 1% and 2% for Australia, Canada, Japan and Korea, 8% in the U.S., 13% in Israel and 20% in the U.K. This is surprising since these programs reduced the time to issuance by up to 75% on average.

The fast-track report also found that the clean tech patent applications that were fast-tracked were mostly for wind and solar power in the U.S., and for carbon capture/storage and biomass in Canada. It was also found that many fast-track users were start-up clean tech companies and that the clean tech fast-track programs may have been used for certain cases where there was possible infringement, to raise capital or to secure commercial partners. Finally, the report also found that domestic companies were more likely to use the fast-track programs in their home countries (e.g. 62% in the U.K. and 50% in the U.S.).

Insights from the Trends

The global industry trends indicate that wind is the leading clean tech sector although in the last few years there has been a large increase in the solar energy sector. In terms of geographical distribution, while the U.S. was the global leader for clean tech investment for several years, they have now been outpaced by China.

Clean tech issued patents generally show a similar trend. The U.S. had the most issued clean tech patents from 2002 to 2012 and there was a large growth in solar U.S. patents compared to wind U.S. patents in 2012. However, the leading sector in issued U.S. patents from 2002 to 2012 was the fuel cell sector although this wasn’t necessarily reflected in the clean tech investment data.

The U.S. was the clear leader for absolute participation in fast-track clean tech patent programs but the U.K. had a larger participation percentage-wise. Interestingly, China does not appear to have a clean tech fast-track patent program per se despite the large amount of investment in the clean tech sector there recently. However, China has expedited examination for many types of technologies including clean tech.