Patents Emerge as Concern in Upcoming Climate Change Treaty

By Published On: July 31, 2009

A House panel July 29 delved into the role of intellectual property protection under a new international treaty on global warming set to be negotiated late this year in Copenhagen. Business representatives squared off over whether innovative clean technologies should be protected under traditional patent rights or treated under an “open” protocol aimed at promoting easier sharing and diffusion across borders in exchange for reasonable compensation. In opening the House Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming hearing, panel chair Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) stressed that intellectual property rights must reward innovators but also “balance the need for incentives with the common good.” He urged lawmakers and climate change negotiators to structure intellectual property rights in a way that brings the innovation needed to solve the global warming problem. “Without the assurance that intellectual property rights will be respected,” testified Mark Esper, U.S. Chamber of Commerce executive vice president, “commerce between companies and countries will suffer, investment will diminish, and the technologies needed to achieve our various goals will fail to achieve their full potential.” Strong intellectual property laws, he said, are needed to bolster clean technology transfer between nations. Esper criticized China and India for seeking to include “compulsory licensing, patent exclusions, and other exceptions for green technologies” in the new global warming treaty set for negotiation in Copenhagen. “The impact on America’s economy would be severe,” he said. “Green” industry workers in the U.S. could lose their jobs as Chinese and Indian firms took U.S. inventions, copied them, made them for less, and sold them in the international marketplace, he said. A leading U.S. LED lighting company took a more measured stance. Govi Rao, Lighting Science Group chair, told the House panel that the current intellectual property rights regime is “more of a barrier and is limiting the flow of technology across geographic boundaries and is seriously slowing down our ability to get to creative solutions.” To promote technology sharing aimed at global warming, Rao proposed creating a global intellectual property exchange. “I personally believe an extension of intellectual property sharing and collaborative innovation can lead to effective solutions faster.” Under his proposal, the exchange would act as a worldwide clearinghouse for all patents related to climate change technology. Inventors would be able to learn what already has been developed and focus on building upon those technologies. In addition, the exchange would establish “a global fund to ensure value flow to the inventors and innovators.”

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