Analysing the Relevance of Patents in Combating Climate Change

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Climate change is a significant predicament that plagues the 21st century. In a broad sense, it can be defined as the alteration of temperature and climatic patterns of an area that is caused due to human activities that release greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere. Climate change is an issue that several international authorities have neglected for a very long period of time. Several international efforts have been made to fight the effects of climate change. Such international efforts are collectively addressed as the ‘green movement’. The green movement comprises several scientific efforts, political activities, treaties, agreements, and conventions that aim to address environmental concerns that contribute to climate change. Some of them include the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement, and the Earth Summit.

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Several countries have also added curbing climate change to their agendas and are taking active measures to reduce the release of greenhouses gases into the Earth’s atmosphere. Such efforts are enforced through legal administration, social behaviors, research, and development. Currently, it is speculated that the impact of climate change is nearly irrevocable. However, its impact can be alleviated with the help of technological developments. The need for regulating the effects of climate change with the help of scientific innovations has led to the genesis of several Environmentally Sound Technologies (ESTs) and strategies. ESTs are technologies that promote the use of natural resources sustainably. Moreover, ESTs significantly minimize the negative impacts produced by other technologies, thus being an environmentally friendly alternative to pre-existing technologies. ESTs are not just limited to technologies. The UNEP defines ESTs as total systems that also include know-how procedures, goods and services, equipment, and organizational procedures for promoting environmental sustainability. Some examples of ESTs include solar panels and wind turbines. Composting and conserving energy can be considered as Environmentally Sound practices that may contribute to minimizing the negative impacts of climate change. ESTs were deemed to be imperative to combat climate change ever since it was introduced at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. Thus, it can be enumerated that technology and sustainable practices play a crucial role in fighting climate change.

A patent refers to an exclusive right related to an invention, which is bestowed upon an inventor. Patents prevent other individuals or commercial entities from exploiting an invention. Patent systems are closely linked to technological advancements that facilitate alleviating the effects of climate change. An example of patents related to ESTs includes solar, a solar power start-up, who had filed a patent for a plant that harnesses solar energy with the help of mirrors to create a structure called the power tower. Another popular EST patent includes the General Electric Patent number 039, which patented a speed wind technology that significantly changed the wind energy industry in the early 90s. The patent was secured for a speed wind turbine that provides responsive control in the form of electricity through a generator torque. The patentability of innovations that help in combating climate change is subjected to several debates.

One side of the debate contends that patent systems are vital for EST-related inventions. This paradigm is supported by the fact that patenting fuels further research and development, which is exceptionally crucial for combatting climate change in today’s day and age. Several companies have immensely long research and development cycles to come up with EST-related inventions. Such large-scale research and development cycles require an extensive amount of funding, capital, and time investment. In order to obtain capital, companies depend on patents, thus making patents essential for fuelling research and development. Moreover, patents encourage inventors to develop EST-related inventions since patents provide monetary benefits to the inventor. This fact is supported by a study conducted on people from the scientific community by the Intellectual Property Research Institute of Australia (IPRIA). The study reported that people were 13% less likely to invent anything if it was not patented.

Furthermore, as a by-product of the green movement, several governments continuously strive to facilitate the development of EST-related inventions in their countries. With patent systems in place, governments will ensure that technological conglomerates and their private interests don’t outweigh the public interests. Additionally, there are means through which patented ESTs can be made accessible to the general public. For one, the TRIPS agreement enables compulsory licensing, a practice through which the Government may authorize the licensing of a patent to a third party without the patent owner’s consent. Through compulsory licensing, the inventor/ patent holder may also receive a fee that is fixed by the Government. This would ensure that private, as well as public interests, are balanced. Patent pools pose as another solution to ensure that private interests don’t outweigh public interests. A patent pool is an agreement through which multiple parties may cross-license patented knowledge. One of the most significant advantages of patent pools is that it creates good prospects for budding inventors. Through patent pools, investors may incentivize new inventions. Since climate change is an issue that several technological conglomerates attempt to solve effectively, investors may fund EST-related innovations.

On the other hand, several have argued that patents may seriously impede the rate at which technology could alleviate the effects of climate change. This paradigm is supported by the fact that climate change is a global problem and that private or governmental entities should not control EST-related innovations. Furthermore, patent holders may restrict other individuals or companies from conducting further research on a particular EST-related invention.

Patenting inventions that are crucial to fight climate change may impede low-income or middle-income countries from accessing environmentally sound inventions. Thus, it is contended that EST-related inventions that would help combat climate change should not be patented since this could cause more harm than good. However, the disadvantages of patenting EST-related inventions can be significantly reduced with the help of patent systems through practices such as compulsory licensing or patent pools. With climate change being a significant concern for humankind, patents are expected to play a crucial role in ensuring that research and development do not retard. Several efforts, such as the WIPO Green, have already been made to ensure that patent systems coexist with environmentally sound inventions. With proper patent systems in place, one could anticipate that EST-related inventions' development would accelerate, thus paving the way for a greener tomorrow. 

Author: Sanjana, a BBA LLB student of  Symbiosis Law School (Hyderabad), in case of any queries please contact/write back to GLOBAL PATENT FILING at in case of any queries please contact/write back us at support@globalpatentfiling.com.

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