INSIGHT: Patents threatened by climate change policies

21 May 2009 16:37  [Source: ICIS news]

Producers seek justice for property rights in climate policiesBy Joe Kamalick

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--Climate change policies pose a new threat to chemical makers and other high-tech manufacturers as global warming advocates seek to end patent rights on “climate critical” products, technologies and processes.

DuPont, Praxair and more process industry firms joined this week with other major manufacturers such as General Electric, Daimler, Siemens and 3M and the broad-based US Chamber of Commerce in a new coalition to press the US and other governments to protect intellectual property rights (IPR) under attack from climate change policymakers worldwide.

The coalition, called the Innovation, Development and Employment Alliance (IDEA), basically wants to tell governments around the globe that intellectual property rights should not be sacrificed on the altar of climate change.

In announcing its campaign, the group cited a range of statements from UN and EU officials, national government leaders and representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) seeking patent waivers for climate-critical technologies in order to speed the spread of products and processes that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve energy efficiency or generate non-carbon fuels and other energy resources.

Alex Burgos, a spokesman for the US Chamber on intellectual property issues, cited a statement by UN Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development Jomo Kwame Sundaram that changes in IPR protections might be necessary to get developing nations to participate in international global warming agreements.

“Reform to the current IPRs regime will need to be addressed to make possible the extensive use of technological solutions to address climate change,” Sundaram said in the UN Chronicle.

Dalindyebo Shabalala of the Center for International Environmental Law, an NGO based in Geneva, was quoted in Intellectual Property Watch as saying that “waiving patents could be necessary to ensure the wider availability of fuel-efficient cars” in order to serve the greater good of reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions globally.

Another NGO official, Martin Khor of the Malaysia-based Third World Network, was quoted in Reason magazine saying that “If there is insistence on the ‘full protection of intellectual property’ in relation to climate-friendly technology, it would be a barrier to technology transfer”.

Shyam Saran, the Indian prime minister’s special envoy on climate change, said in a New Delhi speech that technologies that address climate change and global warming should be in the public domain and treated as common goods.

As quoted in The Times of India, Saran said that India wants to see technologies that could make substantial impact in reducing climate change dealt with in the same manner as HIV drugs.  “If climate change is an extraordinary issue like HIV/AIDS, then it should be dealt with similarly,” Saran said.

And Reuters quoted Zhou Dadi of China’s Energy Research Institute as saying that if his nation is to participate in global climate change agreements, “I think we have to resolve a lot of barriers on the so-called intellectual property rights issues”.

The IDEA coalition argues that advancing technological solutions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions along with improved energy efficiencies and renewable power sources can only be ensured if intellectual property rights are sustained and strengthened, not weakened.

Carl Horton, chief intellectual property counsel at General Electric, argues that “Technology has to be part of any climate change policy, and strong IP rights will help spur the development and fair transfer of clean energy technologies.

The US Chamber and IDEA welcomed legislation introduced this week by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (Democrat-California) that would add IPR enforcement resources at key US embassies.

Language in HR-2410, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for fiscal year 2010, would authorise funding for ten diplomat specialists in intellectual property rights to serve in various embassies and promote foreign governments’ support for and enforcement of IPR.

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Paul Hodges studies key influencers shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy

By: Joe Kamalick
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