Ad Portas of celebrating this Year's IP Day (April 26th), and since this year topic is "Innovate for a Green Future", we decided to write an overview of green technologies and the role of IP incentivizing green innovation. Along with this introduction to green technologies, we will further discuss related topics, focusing on the world trend on green patents and inversions, and provide information regarding Korean green patents.
The climate crisis is happening.
Science has been warning us with consistent evidence that global warming is real and is affecting us. Directly or not, climate-related events impact our society severely in terms of health and human security, resource availability, and economy (e.g. health impacts due to heat, water availability and quality, reduce agricultural yield, flooding, and erosion, wildfires and more). Most of the temperature rise is due to increased production of greenhouse gases by human activities, and the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was clear: "global emissions need to be cut by at least 45 percent by 2030 to get zero emissions by 2050" to limit global warming and avoid reaching a point of no return in climate change with catastrophic impacts. IPCC Said that several countries -especially G20 countries that are responsible for near 80% of the global emissions- are at the lead of the transition towards the so-called green technologies.
[Green technologies referring to technology that minimizes emissions of greenhouse gases and pollutants by saving energy and resources and making use of them efficiently throughout the whole process of social and economic activities such as reducing greenhouse gases, raising the efficiency of energy utilization, pollution-free production, clean energy, recycling resources, and eco-friendliness including related convergence technology.
In practice, nations need to move towards green growth, increasing the use and efficiency of renewable energy, developing sustainable transport systems, and decarbonizing high emitting key economic sectors in heavy industry (i.e. cement, steel, and chemicals, and heavy-duty road transport, shipping and aviation). According to Frankfurt School-United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the "global investment in renewable energy capacity in 2018 was US$272.9 billion, which was about three times higher than investment in coal and gas-fired generation capacity combined. But estimates that this kind of investment should reach between US$1.6 trillion and US$3.8 trillion per year globally on average over 2020-2050 to meet climate targets (UN emissions Gasp Report).
IP & It's Role In Developing Green Technology
Each country's government should have the capacity to create the market and impulse the demand for green technology, starting by funding early-stage research (i.e. basic research) through research and developmental (R&D) programs. But another way to encourage innovation is through the protection of intellectual property (IP). A reliable IP system not only incentivizes innovation and protects inventors, but also facilitates the transfer and exchange of that knowledge for collaboration.
Above all, patents are important for innovation as the key motivation of private companies and venture capitals is that they see patents as a return on their investment in green technology innovation. According to WIPO, nearly 70 percent of innovation is financed by the private sector, and IP rights are what is keeping this cycle. A large portion of green patents are filed by big multinational corporations that invest millions in R&D, and start-up companies receive venture investment to develop green technologies and obtain patents. "If you take IP out of the game, companies will lockdown. There will be less collaboration, and capital will be diverted to other sectors that offer a surer return on their investment" explained Carl Horton, General Electric's (GE) Chief Intellectual Property Counsel to WIPO magazine.
Ultimately, for a technology to be distributed to the public, there should exist a transfer of the know-how through partnerships that allow the development and commercial diffusion of the technologies. But again, when investors look for companies to partner with, or start-up to invert, they will look for companies with proven IP-protected technology to help them commercialize their technologies.
Furthermore, within the patent system, the government can create rules that allow a quicker and less expensive access to patent rights for green technology. Nowadays, various countries (i.e. United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Israel, China, and Korea) have developed fast-tracking programs to deal with applications related to green technology. The main idea behind this is to speed up the license and the use of clean technologies.
Finding The Trends In Green Technology
Aside from the technological knowledge, patents can serve as a source of information regarding which are the trends for development, providing clues before the market takes off. Licensing would be a better indicator, but that information is usually kept confidential.
According to green growth indicators from OECD countries and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), after a sturdy increase in patent applications between 2000 and 2011, green innovation has remained relatively steady in the last years. The patenting of clean energy for example, has been on a slump since 2011 after the disaster in the Fukushima nuclear plant, which was a blow to nuclear energy innovation and patenting activity. In contrast, since 2014 there has been a significant growth in other areas such as electric vehicles and green homes, which are industries that have chosen to work with pioneering green technology (see Graph). Regarding this, there have been similarities in the trends of patents and investments. Over the past 3 years, investments have been maintained for the renewable energy area (at USD 1.85 trillion in 2018), which seems to be due the return of investments in coal plants (IEA data). This is the case in the United States, for example, energy investment has been catching up with China - which remained the world's largest investment destination-, but mainly by increasing investment in fossil fuel supplies, a scenario that mismatch with the world's energy security and sustainability needs.
According to IEA, "Today's capital allocation would need to shift rapidly towards cleaner sources and electricity networks to align with the Sustainable Development Scenario", where renewable power should increase 50 percent of average annual investment by 2030. About this issue, the IEA's Executive Director. Dr. Birol said "Government leadership is critical to reduce risks for investors in the emerging sectors that urgently need more capital to get the world on the right track."
IRENA INSPIRE (www.irena.org/Inspire)
Green Patent Databases To The Rescue
Making patent information more accessible may help accelerate green innovation, and for this purpose in 2013 WIPO launched WIPO GREEN. This database allows inventors and companies to list their products -there are 3800+ technologies listed so far- and make them visible to attract investors and partners. On the other hand, this platform also includes a list of 100+ partners from government institutions, intergovernmental organizations, academia, and small, medium-size as well as multinational companies looking for technology and service providers (products and partners up to March 2020). Thus, users of this database can "gain global visibility for their products or needs, and find partners for business and investment opportunities".
[WIPO GREEN is an "online platform for technology exchange that will contribute to the accelerated adaptation, adoption and deployment of green technology solutions by connecting technology providers with technology seekers"]
WIPO also owns the "IPC green inventory", to facilitate searches for patent information regarding green technologies, allowing users to automatically search and display all international patent applications available through PATENTSCOPE which are classified in the relevant IPC place.
["Every day an important green tech innovation is hindered from coming to market Is another day we harm our planet and another day lost in creating green businesses and green jobs." Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property, David Kappos.]
Regarding this issue, WIPO GREEN is optimistic, reporting that the "demand for green technology is expected to grow by 6.9 percent annually in 2025."