Intellectual property has a role to play in sustainability | NTT DATA

Tue, 26 April 2022

Intellectual property has a role to play in sustainability

According to the latest report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) published in April 2022, global warming would cause in the near-term unavoidable increases in multiple climate hazards and present multiple risks to ecosystems and humans. Tackling climate change depends on economic growth that works in line with the environment and the objective is clear; we need to do more with less. In this context, technological innovation is key, providing solutions that are more respectful to the environment and that allow for a more efficient use of resources. 

Intellectual Property system, conceived as a tool to protect and reward innovators and creators for their contribution to society, is not sidelined by this challenge. On the contrary, it can (and does) play a relevant role in the global efforts in the transition towards the so-called green technologies and clean energies. The main way in which IP rights can foster the development and spread of these technologies arises from the own rights’ nature. As per Article 7 of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), the protection of IP rights is aimed at “contributing to the promotion of technological innovation and the transfer and dissemination of technology, to the mutual advantage of producers and users of technological knowledge and in a manner conducive to social and economic welfare, and to a balance of rights and obligations”. The economic incentive provided by the IP protection is key to drive technological progress to a significant level in all fields.


In this regard, the term 'Green IP' has been recently shaped and refers to the protection of innovation in the field of green technology, while developing a thought for innovations for the need of the environment to be legally protected. Patents are a clear example of how sustainable and green technologies can leverage on the protection through IP rights. In the race for greener technologies, patents provide temporary exclusive rights over companies’ developments to obtain a share of the investments made to develop and bring them to the market. A patent definitely provides its owner with a competitive advantage when it comes to approaching potential investors and seeking business opportunities with partners. An area that is being clearly powered in the last years by the application of patents is the development of greener technologies for decarburization and greener transport. Transport-related European patent applications have increased by 4.5% in 2021, in comparison to the previous year, and around 34% from 2012. Analysis conducted by the EPO determines that the overall growth in transport applications was mainly driven by the race for greener aviation and the rise of hybrid and electric vehicles. 

In addition, each published patent becomes a source of solid information on the most innovative and latest technologies. Patent publications serve as a collection of information and knowledge that can be used by other entities for several purposes, such as implementation of competitive intelligence system or the regionalization of technologies. With this aim, WIPO and the IPC Committee of Experts developed the "IPC Green Inventory", which facilitates searches for patent information relating to Environmentally Sound Technologies (ESTs), as listed by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). According to WIPO, these technologies are currently scattered widely across the IPC (International Patent Classification) in numerous technical fields. The Inventory attempts to collect them in one place so technologies developed in the distinct parts of the globe related to, for example, renewable energies, can be consulted and adapted to the conditions of other countries.  


Intellectual Property system is also able to bring stakeholders together to enhance innovation.  As there is often a high degree of complexity in environmental technologies, and because of the global scope of climate change and environmental concerns, open innovation supported by strong IPR protection is required to amplify the invention and diffusion of these technologies. There are some initiatives and public strategies that give IP a key role in supporting public-private collaboration for stimulating the development and diffusion of green technologies. WIPO Green is one of such, an online platform acting as a one-stop shop for connecting providers and seekers of environmentally friendly technologies. At the European level, the encouragement of innovation through this type of cooperation is a well-known policy practice. A clear example is Horizon Europe, an EU’s funding programme that has as main objectives tacking climate change and supporting the achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Public-private partnerships funded through this programme are underpinned by an IP strategy which must be designed according to open science principles and aimed at guaranteeing that the resulting solutions will be exploited in the market.

That being said, IP systems still face certain challenges to be able to fully support the development of green technologies. As Professor Manuel Desantes pointed out in a recent talk promoted by NTT DATA, we are moving towards the fourth industrial revolution, and the IP system has to adapt to the current innovation processes of an interconnected and globalized world. We need a more agile, efficient, and tailored IP system to keep fostering new forms of technological and economic development. 

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