Climate change update: Technology, IP issues on the table

1 May 2008

Climate change negotiators have started grappling with key issues in order to arrive at a new global climate agreement at the end of 2009. Meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, in early April more than a thousand negotiators and other participants gathered to agree on the concrete work programme for the next two years.

During five intensive days of meetings, negotiators considered was what roles different countries could play, and what responsibilities they could be expected to take on.

IP issues divide delegates

In the context of technology transfer and diffusion, intellectual property issues have become a controversial topic. One of the keys to successfully mitigating climate change will be the rapid global diffusion of climate-friendly technology - be it energy efficient technologies, or new and renewable energy generation technologies.

During the Bangkok negotiations, some developing countries, such as India and Pakistan, called for a relaxation of IP standards for all climate-related technology in order to support their rapid diffusion. Saudi Arabia went further, suggesting that countries should be able to issue compulsory licenses for climate change technologies - meaning they would be able to unilaterally make decisions to allow their companies to copy technologies without following normal procedures for patented goods.

Other countries were sceptical with regard to such an approach. Some, such as the US, noted that IP has not been the bottleneck or a barrier to the diffusion of climate technologies. China, a significant importer of environmental technologies, but also a rapidly growing producer and exporter, called for a balanced approach, saying the technology transfer discussion should not be allowed to get stuck on the single issue of IP.


Intellectual property rights have long been a tool to promote innovation and the dissemination of new ideas and inventions. Nevertheless, in some cases the excessive scope or level of protection of intellectual property rights in fact provides a disincentive for further research and development, as well as an obstacle to access to the protected knowledge by the broader public. Therefore, a balance will need to be achieved between patents and access to climate-related technologies.

Intellectual property is not necessarily the bottleneck for the present generation of technologies. This may change as new technologies are developed, and a better understanding is also needed on a sector by sector and technology by technology basis. Under the Montreal Protocol, the technology funds included money to pay for the necessary licensing fees.

There is increasing realisation that – both within and beyond the intellectual property system – existing innovation structures and activities can and should be enhanced to benefit climate mitigation efforts. Initiatives include an international “distributed innovation” model and strategy for climate technology. Prizes to promote innovation in clean technologies are also being explored.

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