A common complaint about intellectual property rights (IPR) is that they prevent or reduce access to important technology in the developing world. A recently published study examined the validity of this claim with respect to climate change technologies and found that patent rights are not an obstacle to transfer of these technologies to developing countries.
The report was commissioned by the Trade Directorates General of the European Commission and co-authored by Copenhagen Economics and The IPR Company and is entitled “Are IPR a Barrier to the Transfer of Climate Change Technology?”.
The study examined patent protection and ownership data for seven clean energy technologies – waste and biomass, solar, fuel cells, ocean, geothermal and wind – in low-income developing countries and emerging market economies from 1998 through 2008.
The study shows the distribution of patent rights by country of residence of the patent holder. According to the report, one simple reason IPR are not a barrier in developing countries is:
there are hardly any patents on these technologies registered in these countries
To the extent the cost of implementing clean energy technologies in developing countries is high, the report says this is more likely to be due to the immaturity of the technologies than to patent rights.
Contrary to calls for compulsory licensing or other measures to weaken IPR, the report states that relaxing the IP regime for clean technologies in developing countries would not improve technology transfer to these countries.
As to why there are so few clean tech patents in the developing world, the report posits that patent holders do not apply for protection in these countries because poor technological capacities, economic conditions and market size make developing countries unattractive markets.
In emerging markets that do have favorable conditions for implementation of clean technologies and significant numbers of domestically owned patents (the report cites China as a key example), the study finds that improving patent protection could stimulate both domestic innovation and the transfer of technologies from foreign patent holders.
The report sums up its key finding as follows:
In conclusion, the study finds that intellectual property rights do not in themselves constitute a barrier to the transfer of carbon abatement technology from developed countries, neither to low-income developing countries nor to emerging market economies. Many other non-technological and more economic factors stand int he way of achieving the carbon abatment objectives of low-income countries.