New Alliance’s Big IDEA: Strong IP is Essential for Green Innovation

In a timely push to demonstrate the critical role intellectual property (IP) is playing and will continue to play in the development of clean technologies, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and business leaders will launch the Innovation, Development & Employment Alliance (IDEA) this Wednesday, May 20, 2009 (idea_launch_press_release.doc).

IDEA’s mission is to educate policymakers and the public about the fundamental role of IP rights in promoting innovation in the clean tech space.  The Alliance asserts that robust IP protection is needed to encourage investment in clean tech research and development, create green jobs and find solutions to the world’s energy and environmental challenges.

IDEA’s immediate priority is to urge Congress and the Obama administration to maintain strong IP protection for innovators as the U.S. engages in international talks related to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

I spoke with Caroline Joiner, the Vice President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center (GIPC), who expressed concern about the “anti-IP push” of the UNFCCC and called the talks “the IP battle of the year.”

What worries Ms. Joiner and other members of the Alliance are calls coming primarily from developing countries to weaken IP rights in energy efficiency and environmental technology.  Even the current U.S. Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, suggested weakening IP protections, advocating a “very collaborative” effort:  “by very collaborative I mean share all intellectual property as much as possible.”  (see the IP-Watch op-ed by David Hirschmann, President & CEO of the GIPC).

Advocates of this approach see a strong patent system as a barrier to technology transfer, especially in developing countries, and call for exceptions to the system such as compulsory licensing.  

However, their premise – that IP rights hinder tech transfer of clean technologies to developing countries and emerging markets – has been refuted recently by a European Commission report that found no evidence of any such IP-related barriers (see my post about the report here). 

The EC report found that there are hardly any clean tech patents in developing countries, and the high cost of implementation in these countries is more likely due to the immaturity of the technologies than to patent rights.  The report actually concluded that strengthening patent regimes in emerging markets could stimulate both local innovation and transfer of technologies from foreign patent holders.

IDEA has invited members of Congress and other policymakers to the launch event, which will be held at the National Press Club in Washington this week.  Ms. Joiner said the format will be a “roundtable discussion” of these issues.  The Alliance members attending the launch event include:

David Hirschmann – President & CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center

Andy Cefranic – Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems

Carl Horton – Chief Intellectual Property Counsel, General Electric

Bill Keith – President & CEO, Sunrise Solar

Susan Mann – Senior Director of Intellectual Property Policy, Microsoft

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Eric Lane

Eric Lane, the founder and principal of Green Patent Law, is an intellectual property lawyer and registered U.S. patent attorney in New York and is a member of the bar in New York and California. Eric has more than two decades of experience working with wind, solar PV, CSP, biofuels, and geothermal, energy storage technologies, carbon capture and sequestration, medical devices, data communications, mechanical, chemical, internet and software.