Overcoming the Impasse on Intellectual Property and Climate Change at the UNFCCC: A Way Forward

Date period
1 November 2011

SummaryWith the international community looking to the UNFCCC Conference in Durban for results, an important opportunity exists to address one of the most contentious issues in the climate change debate: the role of intellectual property rights in the development and access to mitigation and adaptation technologies.

While global climate change negotiations have made some progress in the area of technology transfer, as reflected in last year's agreement in Cancun to establish a Technology Mechanism under the UNFCCC, intellectual property has remained a divisive issue. Not only has no agreement been reached in this area, but even the path to a constructive and meaningful discussion seems elusive.

In this policy brief, Ahmed Abdel Latif (ICTSD), Keith Maskus (University of Colorado at Boulder), Ruth Okediji (University of Minnesota Law School), Jerome Reichman (Duke University School of Law) and Pedro Roffe (ICTSD) seek to untangle the issues that lie behind this impasse.

The policy brief addresses three aspects that have been recurrently raised in the discussion: the relevance of the parallel with access to medicines, the dual role of intellectual property rights as an incentive to innovation and as an element that impacts on technology transfer and dissemination and the lessons to be drawn from available empirical evidence. The document then suggests a number of principles and parameters for technical and expert-level discussion, under the UNFCCC framework, that delineate a middle ground upon which future work on the IPR-related aspects of climate change technologies can proceed.

The authors underline the urgency of establishing the premises for a reasonable and balanced discussion about intellectual property and climate change technologies, in the interest of effective international action to address climate change.