According to noises coming out of WIPO and other places in recent months (including the EPO President - see here, for example) IP, and patents in particular, have a role to play in how mankind is to deal with the apparent threat of global warming.
(right: is the solution to recycle IP? Source: jcdesignz)
According to a newsletter from law firm Sidley Austin (here), kindly forwarded to the IPKat by one of his regular readers, some possibilities for how IP rights could be affected seem to be quite radical and, to many IP owners, clearly potentially worrying. Proposals that have been put forward by China and India (among others) to the UN body UNFCCC include the following:
- Excluding "climate-friendly" technologies from patentability [clearly quite different from the 'Green Channel' now in action in the UK], including the possibility of revoking existing patents;
- Mandating technology pools for licensing green technology freely or cheaply [the IPKat fails to see how the free option is effectively any different from the first proposal];
- Mandating or encouraging compulsory licensing for particular green technologies;
- Reinterpreting international agreements on IP and climate change; and
- Establishing a new international body to address technology transfer, including IP issues.
The IPKat would, however, like to offer a third view, which is one that appears to be shared at least in part by one commenter in this year's WIPO magazine special on climate change and IP (see here). This view is that IP has very little, or possibly absolutely nothing, to do with global warming, and (this is where the IPKat is taking the point to its logical conclusion) that any tinkering of the kind suggested by the proposals above is very likely to cause more harm than good. In this Kat's view, applicants should instead be left to get on with trying to patent what they see as important, and the market (perhaps with government assistance in deciding which technologies to help out) should be left to sort out which of these is actually important and will prosper. This is presumably not a view that would be shared by those at WIPO and the UNFCCC, who would have to find better things to do with their time than fly round the world (emitting lots of carbon dioxide in the process) to meet and discuss this apparently pressing issue.
The Sidley newsletter also expresses an opinion about this matter, which the IPKat would tend to agree with:
"These discussions [at WIPO, UNFCCC and elsewhere] are highly charged and may reconfigure the international legal framework in a way that undermines the vital intellectual property rights of innovative industries and puts jobs and investments at risk. Innovative companies with valuable intellectual property should work with governments, international organizations, and like-minded stakeholders to influence the outcome of these deliberations in an appropriate manner. Each of the meetings on the road to [the climate change conference in] Copenhagen offers an opportunity for building consensus and influencing the process. There is a need for solutions that can preserve valuable intellectual property, provide sustainable incentives for the development of climate-related technologies, and facilitate the diffusion of climate-related technologies around the world."The IPKat, who can see why such discussions would be highly charged given the combination of two currently highly contentious issues of global warming and IP, would like to suggest that now might be the time for those interested in developing patentable technologies that have anything to do with global warming start to make their voices heard.
PS: A discussion paper from an Indian thinktank on the issue can be read here. The IPKat thanks the author for informing him.