Intellectual Property Rights and International Technology Transfer to Address Climate Change: Risks, Opportunities and Policy Options

Date period
9 December 2010

SummaryThe rapid deployment and diffusion of environmentally sound technologies (ESTs) is considered crucial for tackling the climate change challenge. In this context, the role of intellectual property rights (IPRs) in the transfer of climate change technologies has been particularly contentious in the negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Against this background, Intellectual Property Rights and International Technology Transfer to Address Climate Change: Risks, Opportunities and Policy Options by Keith Maskus and Ruth Okediji, aims to achieve a better understanding of the many facets of this complex issue and to provide governments and other stakeholders with a more informed perspective.

The paper, which combines legal and economic analysis, goes beyond the ‘all or nothing' approach that has characterized a debate largely dominated by two opposing views: the classic IP paradigm, shared by many in the North, where the focus is on expansive protection and enforcement measures towards ensuring returns from investments in innovation and rewards for R&D; the other, shared by many in the South, focusing primarily on the dissemination and transfer of technology. In effect, the paper proposes a third, more nuanced approach, combining tailored and discrete government measures, along with IPRs, to provide a range of incentives for both the development and dissemination of ESTs.

The paper assesses the existing multilateral framework supporting international technology transfer in terms of its efficiency at disseminating ESTs. A series of concrete international policy options for innovation and access are presented, including both options addressing access to ESTs within the confines of the WTO TRIPS Agreement and potential modifications of the Agreement to facilitate the transfer of ESTs.

One of the key findings of the paper is that the differences in conditions across countries and sectors require flexibility in both domestic and international policies that are put in place to promote international technology transfer. The effectiveness of IPRs in promoting both the development and deployment of ESTs in global markets depends on both industrialized and developing countries (DCs), including how well innovation policies function in industrialized countries, the institutions in place in DCs and least developed countries (LDCs) to facilitate the absorption of new technologies, and ensuring an appropriate balance in both domestic and multilateral IPR systems, in both originating and recipient countries.

ICTSD welcomes feedback and comments to this document. These can be forwarded to Ahmed Abdel Latif, Programme Manager for Intellectual Property and Technology (