It’s been quite a while since I’ve addressed green patents in the context of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and other international efforts to develop climate change policy.
A guest post by Prof. Matthew Rimmer discussed the UNFCCC Doha meeting in December 2012, and I commented on the 2010 Cancun climate change agreement.
Summarizing where we left off, most of the middle-income countries (AKA “developing” countries) together with the least developed countries (collectively, ”G77 + China”) have taken the position that IP protections act as a barrier to development and transfer of green technologies in and to their domestic markets.
The “rich-world” countries, by contrast, advocate strong intellectual property rights and believe they facilitate green tech development, transfer, and deployment.
What is the reality? We don’t know.
A 2008 report by the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) equivocally concluded that “IP is potentially both an incentive and an obstacle to the transfer of technology.” The report also noted that “no comprehensive study has been conducted on the impact of IP rights” in green technologies.
Half a decade later, the international community plugs on, and little has changed.
Three Working Groups of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change each generated a report this year that addresses various aspects of climate change. Working Group II’s report on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability and Working Group III’s report on Mitigation of Climate Change each addresses IP issues, though the contribution to the debate is small both in volume and significance.
The report of Working Group II skates over familiar ground, stating that in many cases “patents and other intellectual property protection constrain technology transfer” but noting the opposing view that “strong IP protection in receiving countries is facilitating technology transfer from advanced countries…” The report does say the evidence suggests that middle-income countries are benefiting from exports, foreign direct investment, and technology licensing associated with IP protection.
Working Group III’s report is similar in substance and tone, observing that IP protection can provide incentives for innovation but “also works to slow the diffusion of new technologies, because it raises their cost and potentially limits their availability.” Elaborating on the favorable evidence on tech transfer to middle-income countries, the report says IP protection “may be necessary to limit the risk for foreign firms that transfer of their technology will lead to imitation and resulting profit erosion.”
But like the ICTSD report from six years ago, the 2014 report of Working Group III still finds insufficient data to conclusively resolve this debate:
In summary, there is inadequate evidence in the literature regarding the impact of IP policy on transfer of GHG-mitigating technologies to draw robust conclusions.
Where is the comprehensive research we need on the true impact of IP rights on green technology development and diffusion?
I’d do it if someone would fund it…