Globally, sustainability is rightfully at the top of governmental and corporate agendas. The most recent United Nations Climate Change Conference (“COP27”) was clutch to in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted 30 years ago, and this international event commemorated that event. The website for the conference quoted Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi as saying: “In the thirty years since, the world has come a long way in the fight against addressing its causes and consequences.”
The fight against climate change depends on innovation, and transitioning to “net zero” will require new technology. This role was acknowledged at COP26 in Glasgow the previous year, where 40 participants signed the so-called Glasgow Breakthroughs, which established goals to hasten the adoption of clean technology in steel production, transportation on roads, hydrogen production, and agriculture. More than ten times in the summary judgement were references to “technology.”
By encouraging the development and commercialization of novel technology, the Intellectual Property (IP) system can aid in the movement toward environmentally friendly processes. Alternative fuels are one example of a sustainable invention that requires a sizable upfront investment and some degree of commercial risk. Patents, in this case, provide legal certainty, a competitive edge, and a means for raising money. Trade secrets, designs, and other types of IP, such as trademarks, also play a role in these endeavours. However, the size of the environmental problem necessitates that we carefully evaluate how the IP system functions as a whole and how it can support sustainable innovation. They include ensuring that IP rights are accessible, that patent data is on condition that without charge, and that technology transfer is as seamless as feasible.
Innovation in sustainability trends
The Sustainable Europe Investment Plan, released in 2020, and the European Green Deal, which took effect in 2021, are only two lofty goals the European Commission has set for creating a climate-neutral Europe. These accords laid down obligations that all European companies must follow. Despite the ambitious ambitions, there has been a significant advancement in expanding self-assurance. A chapter on “Climate Change Mitigation Technologies” (CCMT) and green EU trademarks take in the most recent edition of the joint European Patent Office (EPO) and European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) report on IPR-intensive industries and economic performance in the European Union, which published in October 2022.
The paper points out that despite the relative youth of these European projects, revenues for resource efficiency and environmental technology are divine to reach around €10 trillion by 2030 (an annual growth rate of 7.3%). Patent applications related to CCMT submitted to the EPO have increased from more than 2,000 in 2001 to almost 6,500 in 2019.
German applicants submit the most applications, followed by those from France, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden. In Denmark, where there are fewer patent applications overall, applications for sustainable ideas account for a remarkable 18.5% of all applications submitted by Danish businesses. The production of batteries and accumulators, the mining of other non-ferrous metal ores, the production and transmission of electricity, and the repair and maintenance of aircraft and spacecraft are among the industries that have increased the number of CCMT-related patent applications, according to the report. Patent and trademark-intensive businesses now make up a more significant portion of the GDP and employment.
A series of mini-reports on seven technological fields related to the government’s vision for a “Green Industrial Revolution” was released by the United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office (UK IPO) in October 2022. (offshore wind; low-carbon hydrogen; nuclear power; environmentally friendly transportation; heat pumps; carbon capture, usage and storage; flood and coastal defence). The investigations verified that over the previous 20 years, there have been “substantially more” patents registered globally in the fields of green technology. To be specific:
- Over the past ten years, the number of international patents for wind power has increased by 300%.
- Over the past ten years, the number of low-carbon hydrogen patents has doubled globally.
- In the last ten years, there has been a global growth of almost 300% in the number of patents for environmentally friendly automobiles.
- In the last five years, the number of heat pump patents has surged by more than 200 per cent.
- Over the past ten years, carbon capture and storage patents have increased worldwide.
- Patents for flood and coastal defence have increased by more than 250% over the last ten years.
First steps into fields of green
Although the growing trends in green technology patent filings are encouraging, they may do more to educate businesses operating in relevant industries about the advantages of IP rights. This goal is even more critical because a lot of this sustainable innovation happens in companies that have to utilize the patent system fully. In some circumstances, patients might even prevent the adoption of new technologies.
In addition, the significance of combating climate change and the strong emotions this goal evokes may deter some academics from participating in the patent system. As a result, it is crucial to take action to increase public awareness of the patent system. For instance, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) published some articles, including a special edition of its magazine, highlighting how IP rights can advance sustainable technology for World Intellectual Property Day in 2020, which was the theme “Innovation for a Green Future” (April 26).
Facilitating filing and searching
More specifically, efforts deposit to make the patent system more accessible to creators of green innovations. For instance, the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) system’s so-called Y tags from the EPO (Y02 for CCMT and Y04S for “Smart Grids”) are better often and offer a convenient way to look for pertinent papers. It is crucial to enable innovators to rapidly and adequately search patent databases because previous reading art can be time-consuming and intimidating.
The CodeFest on Green Plastic runs from 2022 to 2023 and is another EPO endeavour. This creative challenge aims to make patents about green polymers more accessible to entrepreneurs. It aims to stimulate further study and development that promotes thriving ecosystems and propels the circular economy for green plastics.
Some IP offices also give green technologies procedural advantages. For instance, the UK IPO has provided a Green Channel since 2009 to expedite the grant process for patent applications if the invention has an environmental advantage. The Office lists Green Channel publications available online (over 3,000 so far). To be considered, applicants must explain how their invention benefits the environment and which processes (such as searches and examinations) they want to speed up. Utilizing the Green Channel is free of charge.
Earlier this year, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) unveiled a Climate Change Mitigation Pilot Program in a related plan. Qualifying non-provisional patent applications featuring climate change mitigation methods will have their evaluation expedited until a first decision on the merits.
Gas emissions,” said Kathi Vidal, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO, upon announcing the programme. The pilot will continue until either 1,000 applications have been approved by June 5, 2023. The patent offices of Japan, Australia, Israel, and Canada are among those that offer fast or expedited examination procedures.
The China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA) also suggests a priority patent examination programme for technology related to intelligent manufacturing, new energies, transportation, and environmental protection. Last but not least, whether or not a patent application relates to green technologies, the EPO’s PACE programme enables applicants to submit requests for quicker search and examination at no additional expense. Initiatives like this show how the patent system may offer the flexibility required to encourage the adoption of green technology. Similar initiatives will likely design in the future, given the success of the current IP office schemes and the general sense of urgency.
But for such systems to work, businesses and inventors must understand them and be able to communicate with them. That calls for an understanding of the options available and an explanation of them to patent applicants on the part of everyone involved in the IP ecosystem, including IP offices, researchers, patent attorneys, and IP service providers.
The promotion of sustainable technology licencing is another promising area of environmental advancement. Many such inventions have a wide range of possible applications. Therefore, patent owners—especially those who are solopreneurs or startups—may need assistance to fully realize the potential of their stories and the commercial rewards to which they are entitled. WIPO GREEN, founded in 2013, promises a partial resolution. It makes an effort to link those looking for environmentally friendly innovations to a patent database, networking initiatives, and acceleration efforts.
For two instances, the website recently offered a “Women in GREEN” series and a survey on the effects of climate change. To encourage, inspire, and promote the creation of vital new technologies, WIPO GREEN also recognizes the achievements of sustainable innovators worldwide. More than 120,000 inventions, requirements, and specialists can get going on it, and 130 partners, 2,000 users, and 1,000 connections made it possible. Effective licencing can maximize the value of patents, advance further development, and hasten the introduction of novel goods to the market. Given the importance of combating climate change, we must do everything we can to promote sustainable licencing.
Overcoming obstacles, both present and future
When it comes to obtaining IP protection, sustainable technology has some unique challenges. Categorizing and searching for these inventions can be difficult because they frequently cross multiple industries. Additionally, there can be specific concerns with the exclusions from patentability in some nations, particularly about biotechnology or computer programmes.
Numerous sustainable developments result in minor upgrades or employ software and artificial intelligence to boost the productivity of practical items and procedures. Advice on which features of the invention are likely to be patentable, the current state of the prior art, and the best ways to prepare applications should seek the broadest protection from a knowledgeable patent attorney in these situations, as well as many others.
Other IP rights may remain relevant even if they cannot obtain patents. Consider the following design elements that help a car be more aerodynamic: These might not be eligible for patent grants but might still shield by copyrights or registered design rights. Trademarks, particularly certification marks, give consumers assurances about product quality and country of origin and foster brand loyalty.
As we’ve seen, commercializing sustainable solutions takes time and effort. While some breakthroughs will undoubtedly have clear-cut, specific applications, others will probably have much broader ones. Always consult an expert before deciding on the best course of action. Once more, to get funding, create non-exclusive licence contracts for platform technology and bargain an exclusive licencing agreement with a dependable partner.
The actions and opportunities offered by IP offices and organizations worldwide suggest that the coming years will be necessary for ensuring that the IP Docketers system is doing everything it can to assist sustainable and green innovation, given the scope and severity of the climate catastrophe. In that regard, patents will be essential in helping in limiting global warming and its repercussions.
This piece originally appeared in The Patent Lawyer Magazine, Annual 2023.