“Today’s clean-tech intellectual property is tomorrow’s oil.”

Andy Hannah, CEO of Plextronics

In today’s technology driven era when everybody is talking about environmental protection then anything created which has benefits for environment, technology and mankind really sparkles more than a diamond. To move away from carbon dependent economy to one that is carbon free is an enormous challenge confronting humanity. Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) can be a vital enabler of growth and innovation in the field of green technology.

Recognizing the importance of IPR, Jacques de Werra, Professor of Contract Law and Intellectual Property Law, University of Geneva opined that IP is technologically neutral – it protects all types of creativity. It is not green in and of itself but with political will it can be made “green.”1

Green Technology

Green Technology, also known as Environmental Technology or Clean Technology is the application of one or more of environmental science, green chemistry, environmental monitoring and electronic devices to monitor, model and conserve the natural environment and resources, and to curb the negative impacts of human involvement.2

The use of green technologies limits the global warming caused as a result of greenhouse gas emissions, allow us to save the non-renewable energy and find alternative sources of energy such as, wind, solar, biomass, etc.

Green Intellectual Prop erty (Green IP)

Green intellectual property refers to the protection of innovations in the field of green technology. It is a concept where innovations which are helpful to environment in one or the other way are legally protected.

It is pertinent to note that one of the primary motives of granting monopoly rights was to promote technological innovation and environmental benefit. Since green technologies tend to protect the environment by reducing the hazards caused to nature by the human intervention, it is essential to take an initiative for providing a fast track procedure for protection of Green Intellectual Property.

Any technology that causes an appreciable reduction in the adverse impact on the environment resulting from any human activity simultaneously maintaining the same level of activity can be considered as green technology. Admittedly, an effective system of Green IP protection coupled with effective government policies and commercialization methodologies can provide the most efficient framework for the global diffusion of green technologies.

Since 2009, many patent offices, mainly in industrialized countries, have put in place schemes to fast track ‘green’ patent applications. These include the UK IP office, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the Korean Patent Office, the Australian IP Office, the Japan Patent Office and the Canadian IP Office. In April 2012, the Brazilian National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI) announced a pilot program to accelerate green patent applications. The objective is to encourage innovation in green technologies by bringing new products to the marketplace more quickly.3

Considering the myriad benefits of Green IP, even developing countries, including India, need to access their IPR system and start a special system which accelerates the Green IP protection process. The features of this special system can also include creation of a database having innovations related only to green technologies, so as to facilitate innovators, end users and leading players in the field across the globe.

Need of Green IP

Today for someone adopting a green concept may be a style statement but this is actually the need of the hour. Reportedly, China emits more CO2 than the US and Canada put together – up by 171% since the year 2000. India is now the world’s third biggest emitter of CO2 pushing - Russia into fourth place.4

Although, the carbon-based energy sources are expected to continue meeting the world’s seemingly infinite global energy demand for years to come, it is also unambiguous that major advancements in the field of clean energy technologies are essential to conserve the finite natural resources.

Therefore, there is a pressing need to improve our IP system

  • to encourage innovations in the field of green technologies;
  • to disseminate and promote green technologies worldwide;
  • to encourage consumers to favour products and services which integrate green technologies; and
  • to permit the transfer of green technologies to other nations.

Initiatives

It is very clear that to conserve natural resources that are depleting at a very fast rate and are nonrenewable in nature, initiatives for the deployment of green technologies should be taken both by the government and the private sector. Consequently, industrialized countries and emerging economies have made large and effective investments in Research & Development of green technological innovations.

The various technology cooperation programs in the clean energy sector include:

  • Launched on September 16, 2010, “IPC Green Inventory” is an initiative of World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). This on-line tool is linked to the International Patent Classification (IPC) system and facilitates searches for patent information relating to environmentally sound technologies (ESTs). As it contains around 200 topics directly relevant to ESTs, this can be very helpful in identifying existing and emerging green technologies and potential partners for further research & development (R&D) and commercial exploitation.
  • US-China “Clean Energy Research Centre”, created in 2009 by US and China to facilitate joint research and development of clean energy technologies by specialized teams of researchers, scientists and engineers from both the countries. A US-China Renewable Energy Forum has also been established to facilitate cooperation on IP matters related to clean energy.
  • Launch of a “Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Centre (JCERDC)” by the US and India, in 2009, to advance Clean Energy and address global energy and environmental sustainability challenges.
  • Creation of “Green Technology Pilot Programme,” by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in 2009 to accelerate the examination of patent applications related to energy conservation, environment protection, green technologies, and reduction in carbon emission.
  • Another instance includes expenditure of 211 million USD in 2001 by oil giant British petroleum (BP) on replacing their old logo with a new green colour based ‘helios logo’ designed to represent energy in its many forms.
  • Launch of “The Eco-Patent Commons,” an innovative green community, in February 2008, by a number of large multinational firms such as Sony, IBM, Nokia etc., in collaboration with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). This community aims to share knowledge and patents related to the environment, energy saving, pollution prevention, recycling, or water conservation. Each participating organization as well as any third party has free access to this community and no registration or notice is required to access the protected technologies.

Conclusion

In the years to come, the increased R&D and deployment of green technologies will certainly play a major role in stimulating economic growth. Today, when the problem of greenhouse gas emission, depletion of ozone layer, and deterioration of natural resources are at alarming stage there is an urgent need to propel technological innovation and R&D in the field of green technology.

There can be an array of diverse policy approaches, but the basic principle will be the same - encouraging innovation and commercialization of breakthrough in local as well as global markets. In addition to the initiatives taken by the Government, even the multinational firms need to come up with more and more ideas and innovations in clean energy sector. For example, Nokia, introduced a patent to the community for recycling mobile telephones. This patent is available in “The Eco- Patent Commons” and can be accessed by the third party without any royalty fee.