Patents and clean energy: bridging the gap between evidence and policy

Date period
24 August 2010

The UNEP-EPO-ICTSD report includes the findings of a patent landscape for clean energy generation technologies and the first global survey of clean energy licensing practices. An important outcome of the report has been the creation by EPO of a new patent classification scheme for clean energies and a searchable database now available on its patent information service.


Climate change is the most pressing challenge of our time. Addressing it requires an unprecedented mobilisation of human and financial resources to alter our patterns of production, consumption and energy use. The large-scale development and diffusion of technologies is the key to making such a transition possible. Enhancing technology transfer has been a key pillar of the global climate change regime since the inception of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992.

The current climate change negotiations recognise the need to strengthen this pillar by, among other things, the establishment of a technology mechanism to accelerate technology development and transfer.  In this context, the role of intellectual property rights in the development of climate change mitigation and adaptation technologies, and especially their transfer to developing countries, has emerged as a particularly contentious issue. Despite repeated calls for reliable and continuously updated information about climate change technologies and patents, this vigorous debate has been marked by a general lack of impartial data and evidence that would enable policy-makers to make informed choices.

Recognising the need for more empirical evidence, data and transparency, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the European Patent Office (EPO) and the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development

(ICTSD) announced in spring 2009 that they would undertake a joint project on the role of patents in the transfer of climate change mitigation technologies. Interim results of this project were presented at the Copenhagen UN Climate Change Conference in December 2009 and at the June 2010 Bonn UN Climate Change Talks, the latter co-hosted with the UNFCCC secretariat and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

This final report represents the culmination of the joint work undertaken. It includes the findings from a comprehensive mapping of clean energy technologies, an in-depth analysis of the patent landscape for these technologies and a survey of licensing activities in this field. A ground-breaking outcome of the project has also been the creation by the EPO of a new patent classification scheme and a searchable database.

The report concludes by pointing to the continuing need to further develop empirical analysis in order to better understand the impact of the patent system on the development and transfer of climate change technologies. Ultimately, we hope that this partnership and its focus on generating knowledge and data will contribute to a more informed policy debate, and thereby to global efforts to address climate change.


Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director

Benoît Battistelli, EPO President

Ricardo Meléndez-Ortiz, ICTSD Chief Executive