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Guest Blog: Tough times, tough actions - time for a greentech patent amnesty?

By Barry Johnston

Given the increasing 6 degrees threat of global warming, and its appalling consequences, should there now be a global patent amnesty? Might it accelerate the worldwide rollout of clean and renewable energy technologies, along the lines of the medical patent amnesties granted to developing countries?

This idea would need to gain international NGO support, and, perhaps ultimately, a WTO agreement to implement (unless some states decide to go it alone). The ramifications for the integrity of intellectual property rights, and for their potential erosion in other sectors beyond cleantech would be enormous.

And of course, such a measure would be opposed by many parties - not just by patent holders, but also by lawyers and others who make a good living from protecting intellectual property.

But an indisputable fact is this: Too many clean energy patents are being under-exploited. Some are even being buried.

Patents often hinder the deployment of affordable clean energy. So let's get rid of that hindrance, or at least reduce its obstruction significantly.

Imagine a prototype innovative green technology, the manufacture of which would require long-term, secure and irrevocable licenses (permission) from three patent-holders. What if one of the three players holds out, as already tends to happen, for an unreasonably high-priced deal?

Will that nascent technology ever reach the market? And even if it does reach the market, will it really be able to compete on a level playing field against fossil fuel burning, which is a process that does not require so many patents as cost-overheads?

I'm not suggesting that all patents should be free to all, but I do think …

  • There should be an outright ban on patent-burial (refusal to permit exploitation)

  • There should also be severe limitations on patent exclusivity (which is where one monopolist can use it) in technologies that save energy or generate renewable energy

  • Patent royalties should remain but there should be a low royalty percentage - patent royalties (summed together) could be restricted so they do not total more than 5% of a product's cost to the end consumer perhaps?

The fact is that today's tough times call for tough measures.

Many countries have now implemented a "Tobin Tax" or similar, on financial transactions, even though this concept was ridiculed as unworkable when it was first proposed in 1972. As for healthcare, as mentioned earlier, patent amnesties for life-saving medicines are now being implemented across Asia, Arica and South America.

So patents are not untouchable… let's free up greentech now.

Barry Johnston is a consultant in renewable energy technology, intellectual property holding, and sustainable business strategy.

Want to know more about cleantech patents? Check out these key stories:

First Solar on the patent throne for solar PV

Green patents times speed up in UK

Online tool for clean energy technologies patents

Check out more Renewable Energy Focus blogs, including guest posts, here.

Posted 21/11/2012 by Gail Rajgor

Tagged under: Blog , Cleantech , Alternative energy sources , Renewable energy , Renewable energy technology , Patents , global warming , Technology , clean energy , renewable energy technologies

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