Environmentally friendly innovation

26 April 2020 is the 20th World Intellectual Property Day, which was established by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) to celebrate creativity and the contribution made by innovators to the development of societies across the globe.

The focus of this year’s celebration is the impressive environmentally friendly innovation around the world which are helping to create a greener and more sustainable planet.

WIPO is promoting four key campaign messages this year:

  1. IP-driven innovation will be key to tackling climate change
  2. New climate-friendly innovation is needed urgently to tackle the climate crisis
  3. WIPO leads the work in establishing a balanced and effective IP system that supports innovation
  4. Celebration of all the pioneering inventors who are working to shape a greener future

The effects of climate change are now being seen in every continent. 2019 saw some of the worst climate change related disasters in recent times. Everyone heard about the devastating bushfires in Australia which destroyed more than 3,500 homes, however the United Nations (UN) recently drew attention to the fact that climate crisis disasters are happening at a rate of one per week, though most garner little international attention. The UN also warned that work is urgently needed to prepare developing countries for the profound impact of said disasters.

The UN special representative on disaster risk reduction, Mami Mizutori, recently pointed out that the problem is twofold: we need technology and better practices to reduce emissions, but we also need technology to develop more resilient infrastructure to handle the inevitable, and already visible, increase in severe weather events.

Intellectual property (IP) rights can subsist in every conceivable form of technology and innovation, and green technologies are far from exempt from protection. The general public may question if this is a hinderance to the world’s aims of developing a more sustainable planet for everyone, as is the question often raised in a debate on the patent protection of medical devices, vaccines and drugs. Surely patents stop these crucial technologies being widely used to the benefit of the whole population? Every year World IP Day aims to raise awareness of the positive contribution to society that IP rights make.

Economists use the term ‘non-rival’ for inventions, creative works, brands and other valuable intangible assets, as if it were not possible to protect these assets with IP rights, they would be used freely by market competitors. Furthermore, if firms were not sufficiently rewarded for their contribution to the development of technology, they would not invest in innovation and leave it up to somebody else. The world can’t wait for a firm with a money tree to do all the innovating and sit back and wait to copy them, it just wouldn’t work. Intellectual property rights give inventors and innovative companies an economic incentive to create desirable innovations.

This is not just a theory used by IP professionals to justify their job to themselves; many significant studies have concluded that there is a positive link between strong IP rights and increased R&D and innovation.

Oftentimes the direction of innovation can be guided by governments. Last month the House of Commons saw Rishi Sunak deliver his first Budget as Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Chancellor provided an array of policies to combat climate change and keep the UK on track with its environmental commitments. The Chancellor proposes a plastic packaging tax to come in to force in April 2022, and further funding to promote the development of recyclable packaging. Some of our Patent Attorneys have already worked on many sustainable packaging innovations, and the trend is likely to continue if companies want to avoid the tax of £200 per tonne for packaging with less than 30% recycled plastic.

The Chancellor also said that he wanted to “invest in ideas”; which in numbers included a £900m investment in nuclear fusion, space and electric vehicles. Will these investments be scaled back after the huge hit to the economy caused by the coronavirus pandemic? Only time will tell.

It is not only monetary investment which promotes green innovation, but also the legal framework a country adopts to nourish and encourage environmentally friendly ideas. A number of intellectual property offices around the world offer expedited examination for patent applications relating to environmentally friendly ideas and developments. These need not be in the classic “green” fields such as solar power, electric vehicles and plastic alternatives, and instead can be in any field of technology, thus rewarding greener developments in traditionally very non-green industries, such as oil and gas exploration.

The UK system, called The Green Channel, was introduced in 2009, and has assisted thousands of environmentally friendly applications proceed quickly through prosecution, with an average filing-to-grant time of only 11 months. The US system, called the Green Technology Pilot Program, was also launched in 2009, however the programme closed after expediting the examination of 3,500 applications. Other well established patent systems also allow accelerated examination for green technology, including the patent offices of Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Japan and Korea.

Once patents have been swiftly granted using the above mentioned accelerating channels, WIPO can assist in the promotion of environmentally friendly technologies through their WIPO Green platform. WIPO established this online platform in 2013, with an aim of connecting providers and seekers of environmentally friendly innovation. The platform currently has more than 3,500 listed technologies, needs and experts, and a diverse range of partner companies ranging from SMEs to multinational conglomerates. If you work at an innovative green company and your expertise or technology is not listed on WIPO Green, you might be missing out on a great opportunity! WIPO publishes an annual review of the activities and achievements of their WIPO Green platform, and exhibits particularly interesting technology at the annual UN Climate Change summit, the next summit of which will be held in Glasgow 2021 (postponed from 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic). Glasgow will also host the Dcarbonise conference in September 2020, although this may be subject to change. This is Scotland’s only dedicated event for low-carbon built environment and transport solutions to improve energy efficiency.

Scotland’s contribution to environmentally friendly innovation

Scotland boasts a strong history of clean energy development, with the second largest onshore wind farm in Europe, Whitelee Wind Farm, located less than 10 miles from Glasgow, and with large offshore wind and tidal projects in Europe’s oil and gas capital Aberdeen, the tides are changing for a greener future.

Please get in touch with one of our Attorneys if you would like to schedule a meeting at either of the above mentioned conferences or would like to discuss how we can help you protect your environmentally friendly innovation.

Andy Caulfield, Patent Associate at Creation IP.

This article (and any information accessed through links in this article) is provided for information and educational purposes only. This article does not constitute professional legal advice. Professional legal advice should be obtained before performing any action based on the information provided in this article. All professional legal advice will be given in accordance with Creation IP Terms of Business. Please contact us for further information.

In this article, Creation IP Patent Associate Andy Caulfield discusses the focus of World IP Day 2020 – the celebration and promotion of environmentally friendly innovation.

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