Conference report: Intellectual Property & Sustainability


The Faculty of Law at the University of Geneva recently hosted (on February 7, 2023) an international conference on the topic “Intellectual Property & Sustainability”. The conference was organized (in hybrid format) in partnership with the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property (IPI) with the support of AIPPI and constituted the 2023 edition of the annual international IP conference organized at the Faculty of Law of the University of Geneva (journée de droit de la propriété intellectuelle - JDPI). The programme featured several high-profile speakers. The IPKat was kindly invited and here is the report.

Jacques de Werra, organizer of conference and Director of the Digital Law Center of the Faculty of Law of the University of Geneva, welcomed the participants and introduced the audience to the theme of the conference. Stéphane Palix, Treasurer General of AIPPI, also said a few words of welcome on behalf of AIPPI.

Edward Kwakwa, Assistant Director General, Global Challenges and Partnerships Sector of WIPO focused on “Harnessing the IP system to promote environmentally sustainable technologies” and provided a detailed overview on the activities and programmes organized by WIPO with regard to Sustainable Development. He addressed the WIPO Green Database, the WIPO Green Technology Book 2022, several WIPO Green Activities (including IP Management clinics for SMES, Women in Green, Pro Bono IP). He finally provided an outline of some WIPO Green Acceleration Projects (LAC Climate Smart Agriculture Project, Acceleration Project Indonesia, China cities Acceleration Project) and underlined how the frontier technologies can represent an opportunity for sustainable development.

Marco D’Alessandro, Senior Policy Advisor, Sustainable Development & International Cooperation, Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property (IPI) focused on “IP and sustainable development: approach and measures taken by the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property” by addressing the IPI’s approach to the SDGs in the next few years (2022-2026). He explained the already existing measures and activities, including general IP services and activities, a special unit dedicated to sustainable development and international cooperation and the partnership with WIPO Green. He also provided the audience with some data related on the Cleantech Patent Landscape and with some case studies of Swiss based start-ups successfully managing innovative green products and technologies with the IPI’s support through assisted patent searches. He finally asked the audience for ideas and input to support the future IPI’s activities for sustainable development.

Prof. Irene Calboli, Academic Fellow, Faculty of Law, University of Geneva and Regents Professor of Law, Texas A&M University School of Law, focused on “The exhaustion of IP rights (first sale doctrine) & the circular economy:  friends or foes?”. Prof. Calboli addressed the right of exhaustion of trade marks in the circular economy especially in the resale sectors. She then moved on to considering the issues arising from “upcycling” and fair use. She gave an overview of some US cases and proposed some interesting questions and possible answers on waste management and recycling, as well as the role of IP in the green economy, which implies a right to repair, re-use and recycle.

Olivia Dhordain, Deputy IP Counsel, Richemont Group, Geneva, focused on “IP & sustainability in the luxury industry.” She explained the main approach to ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) factors from the standpoint of a luxury goods industry. She addressed the interplay between longevity of iconic/heritage products and IP protection and how IP protection is important also from the perspective of sustainability and circular economy.  She stressed the importance for the luxury goods industry to maintain trade mark protection to guarantee the quality of products, mentioning as example luxury watches in respect of the right of repair or marketplaces at auction.

Prof. Nicolas Binctin, Centre d’Etudes et de Coopération Juridique Interdisciplinaire (CECOJI), Université de Poitiers, focused on “La lutte contre l’écoblanchiment (greenwashing): défis et développements récents” (the fight against greenwashing: challenges and recent developments) by addressing the notion of greenwashing and relevant applicable rules, starting from the classical approach of marketing messages, through the subsequent  extension of the scope to the financial communication and shareholders consideration also in view of the “Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive” (CSRD EU 2022/2464) which will progressively enter into application from 1st January 2024 and renewal of greenwashing in the light of sustainable development with respect to society, economy and environment.

Francisco García Valero, Economist at the EUIPO, joined the conference online with a presentation on “Green EU Trademarks”, which highlighted interesting findings of a recently updated report published by the EUIPO on Green Trademarks. Growing interest in sustainability is reflected in the EUTMs filed at the EUIPO. He addressed the focus (on verbal elements) and objective of the study and provided some examples of green trade marks as well. He gave a detailed overview of the data included in the EUIPO Open Dataset (about 70 million green-related terms in about 2 million trade mark applications), Harmonized Database (about 85.000 products terms), WIPO’s Inventory of Green Technologies and Eurostat’s Satellite Environmental Accounts and on the methodology and definitions used to identify a green trade mark.

An interesting issue was data on green technologies/green trade marks and other green IPRs collected by WIPO, EUIPO and IPOs and how to take advantage of this data to improve innovation and green technologies.

Overall, the conference offered a stimulating opportunity to discuss different facets of the complex interplay between IP and sustainability with leading experts from international organizations (WIPO, EUIPO), academia and the private sector. The topic of IP and sustainability is clearly not exhausted: the conference has shown that there is a need for further research and policy activities in order to find (sustainable) ways to implement needed solutions in the IP ecosystem.


Conference report: Intellectual Property & Sustainability Conference report: Intellectual Property & Sustainability Reviewed by Anna Maria Stein on Sunday, February 26, 2023 Rating: 5

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