Inventing Clean Technologies
Chapter 4: The Clean Technology Revolution: Patent Log-Jams and Fast-Tracks
In his mordant tragi-comedy about climate change, Solar, the novelist Ian McEwan envisages the clean technology revolution resulting in log-jams and gridlocks in patent offices around the world. The protagonist of the novel, Professor Michael Beard, rhapsodises to an energy conference, full of venture capitalists: The revolution has begun. The market will be even more lucrative than coal or oil because the world economy is many times bigger and the rate of change is faster. Colossal fortunes will be made. The sector is seething with vitality, invention – and, above all, growth. It has thousands of unquoted companies positioning themselves with new techniques. Scientists, engineers, designers are pouring into the sector. There are log jams in the patent offices and supply chains. This is an ocean of dreams, of realistic dreams of making hydrogen from algae, aviation fuel from genetically modified microbes, of electricity out of sunlight, wind, tides, waves, cellulose, household waste, of scrubbing carbon dioxide from the air and turning it into a fuel, of imitating the secrets of plant life.1 In the area of patent law, there is an ongoing interest in the use of patents to stimulate research and development in respect of clean technologies. There is a commercial interest in clean-energy sources such as solar, wind, waves, and biofuels; the advent and embrace of clean water-filtration and water purification technologies to alleviate global water distribution inequities and shortages; the development and deployment of a new class of transportation technologies that are ultra-efficient, carbon neutral, and optimized...
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