ICTSD update: Patents and climate change added to list of issues to be addressed by WIPO patent committee

15 June 2009

When the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Standing Committee on the Law of Patents (SCP) met earlier this year, it decided to include "patents and the environment, with a particular attention to climate change and alternative sources of energy" among the non-exhaustive list of issues identified at its June 2008 meeting for discussion in the context of its work programme.

Climate change related activities have been increasing in importance at WIPO. Climate Change will feature prominently on the agenda of a major WIPO conference on IP and public policy issues in July. WIPO chose green innovation as the theme of the World IP day this year on 26th April.

The diffusion of climate change technologies is considered a key element in addressing the wider climate change challenge. This issue is gaining increased attention in ongoing negotiations at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), particularly in relation to its meeting in Copenhagen later this year, which many hope will provide a comprehensive response to climate change.

Many issues are cited as barriers to technological diffusion for climate change, including investment conditions, infrastructural constraints, a lack of incentives, IPRs, and the low levels of absorptive and innovation capacities in developing countries. With regard to IPRs, there is still need for significant research and analysis to achieve a better understanding of the exact impact of IPRs on the diffusion of climate friendly technologies and to adequately inform policy in this area.

Against this backdrop and in the context of its Global Platform on Climate Change and Trade, ICTSD held two dialogues in the context of WIPO's Standing Committee on Patents in relation to climate change technologies and IPRS. The objective of the dialogues was to contribute to an improved understanding of issues related to December's UNFCCC Conference of the Parties and to be an input in discussions relating to the WIPO conference mentioned above.

The first dialogue, co-hosted with Chatham House on 24 March 2009, was organised around the theme of "Innovation and Diffusion of Climate Technologies: What Role for WIPO?" At the dialogue, Ilian Iliev, CEO of CambridgeIP, gave a presentation on patent mapping of clean energy technologies. Also, Thaddeus Burns, Senior IP Counsel for General Electric shared the private sector perspective. Burns indicated that 80 percent of research and development (R&D) on climate change technologies is done in the G8 countries. Since the private sector is responsible for most of the investment, Burns says that "IP is the enabling force that allows them to recoup the cost of such investments."

Cristiano Berbert, of the permanent mission of Brazil provided a developing country perspective at the dialogue. Berbert emphasised that WIPO should be brought into discussions on areas of public policy. "The IP system should be more responsive to UN goals," Berbert argued. "The preservation of the environment and reversal of climate change are major UN goals."

The second ICTSD dialogue held on 27 March was entitled Climate Change, Transfer of Technology, and Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs): The Challenge of Evidence based Policy. Nick Johnstone from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) presented his organisation's recent analysis on how climate change technologies draw upon patent information. He emphasised that prices, public expenditure on R&D, certainty in policy incentives, and scientific capacities in the specific technology are the most important drivers for green innovation.

Frederick Abbott, a law professor at Florida State University, spoke on the lessons to be learned from global policy development on intellectual property and public health for negotiations on climate change, technology transfer and IPRs. He pointed in particular to the failure of zero-sum bargaining and the necessity of concrete mechanisms for technology transfer and the importance of competition law and capacity building in this field for developing countries.

Anthony Taubmann from WIPO raised several questions about the ‘climate' of IPRs, climatology of IPRs and IP law and policy. He emphasised that the existence of a patent is not in itself a barrier to the transfer of technology and equally, enforceable patent rights are never a guarantee for technology transfer. However, he said, transparency in the patent system can be a major boost to technology transfer.

Konstantinos Karachalios from the European Patent Office (EPO) insisted that the magnitude of climate change challenge called for departing from ‘business as usual' approaches to technology transfer in this area.

Dalindyebo Shabalala from the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL) indicated that the discussion on transfer of climate change technology and IPRs cannot be dissociated from the wider issue of financing in the climate change negotiations.  María Mendeluce, from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) welcomed WIPO's stepped up role in addressing IPRs issues in relation to climate change technologies in view of its expertise on IP matters.

Discussions at both Dialogues reflected the need for further evidence based analysis to achieve a greater understanding of the interface between patents, transfer of technology, and climate change technologies with a view to enhance policies and measures which are effective in contributing to the rapid diffusion of climate change technologies.

For further information, please contact Ahmed Abdel Latif, aabdellatif@ictsd.ch

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