Surge of patents since Kyoto

October 8, 2010 | 00:00

Surge of patents since Kyoto

Six countries – Japan, USA, Germany, Korea, France and the UK – are the source of almost 80% of all innovations developed worldwide in the field of clean energy technologies (CETs). This is one of the key findings of a patent-based study on the emergence and distribution of these technologies across the globe jointly conducted by the European Patent Office (EPO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD).

Some 400 000 patent documents identified from a pool of 60 million patents at the international level form the basis of the study which examines the effect of patents on the world-wide transfer of CETs, including solar PV, geothermal, wind, and carbon capture, to name but a few. The study also contains the first-ever survey on licensing, which provides insights into the licensing practices of technology holders in this area.

A basis for decision makers

The main objective of the study titled "Patents and clean energy: bridging the gap between evidence and policy" is to provide facts in an area where there has previously been very little empirical data.

"The joint study is both exemplary and ground-breaking in its cross-sector collaboration to deliver results that have a direct benefit to society," said EPO President Benoît Battistelli. "Patents play a key role in providing information about existing technologies, the level of their development and geographic spread. This information facilitates an informed debate on climate change."

"Far from being a drag on economies and innovation, international efforts to combat climate change have sparked technological creativity on low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy solutions. The challenge now is to find ways in which these advances can be diffused, spread and transferred everywhere so that the benefits to both economies and the climate are shared by the many rather than the few", Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said.

"A massive scale-up of use and diffusion of Clean Energy Technologies globally, and in particular to developing countries, is imperative for effective climate change mitigation and adaptation. This study provides evidence and key insights towards a better understanding of the challenges facing this objective," said ICTSD Chief Executive Ricardo Meléndez-Ortiz.

Surge of patenting since the Kyoto protocol

The study shows clearly that the surge of patenting activity in CETs coincided with the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, providing a strong indication that political decisions can be important in creating a framework to stimulate the development of  technologies which are considered to be crucial to the efforts to address climate change. The statistical analysis of the data shows that patenting rates in the selected CETs have increased roughly 20% per year since then, outpacing the traditional energy sources of fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

Among the six OECD countries that dominate the CET field, Japan leads the way, followed by the U.S. and Germany. The Republic of Korea — focusing largely on solar PV — is also a key player, showing a considerable increase in patenting in recent years. The field is rounded off by France and the UK. Moreover, China is partly following in Korea's footsteps, emerging as a strong player in the field of solar PV.

Untapped licensing potential towards developing countries

The licensing survey found that there was limited licensing activity to entities from developing countries and it was confined mainly to China, India and Brazil. However,70% of survey respondents were prepared to offer more flexible terms when licensing to entities in developing countries with limited financial capacity. The survey also indicates that intellectual property rights alongside other macroeconomic factors are important for respondents when licensing to developing countries.

Public access to state of the art-technology

In the process of the data collection for the study, the EPO created a free easy-to-use digital information tool which provides simplified and free access to all patent documents related to CETs worldwide, meaning there is a whole new level of transparency in the CET sector.

Understanding the role of CETs and their dissemination can potentially play a large role in efforts to help mitigate climate change. By taking the lead in launching a large-scale study into the effects of patents on CETs, the EPO, UNEP and ICTSD have shown their willingness to use their position as expert organisations in their respective fields of expertise, to collaborate and provide data that will create more transparency and a factual basis for negotiations on climate change, particularly on enhancing and accelerating the transfer of these critical clean technologies.

For the full report click here.

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