Intellectual Property and Climate Change
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Intellectual Property and Climate Change

Inventing Clean Technologies

Matthew Rimmer

In the wake of the international summits in Copenhagen and Cancún, there is an urgent need to consider the role of intellectual property law in encouraging research, development, and diffusion of clean technologies to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. This book charts the patent landscapes and legal conflicts emerging in a range of fields of innovation – including renewable forms of energy, such as solar power, wind power, and geothermal energy; as well as biofuels, green chemistry, green vehicles, energy efficiency, and smart grids.
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Chapter 5: The Toyota Prius: Hybrid Cars, and Patent Trolls

Matthew Rimmer


During the debates at Copenhagen in 2009, and Cancún in 2010, there was much discussion over whether patent holders would use exclusive rights to block access to clean technologies. Energy companies and industry lobby groups vehemently denied that intellectual property rights have been used to restrict access to clean technologies. For instance, Carl Horton of General Electric Inc. flatly denied that patents were a barrier to access to clean technologies: The rhetoric we hear people saying, that IP is the problem, I don’t understand it. I don’t see how patents are stopping anybody from making a wind or a gas-fired turbine. We don’t believe the premise, we think it’s hype. There are other ways you could reform policy to get those technologies into the market; reshaping the IP paradigm is not the way to do it because it isn’t the problem. But there are other things you can do, such as these advanced market commitments, such as lowering tariffs around certain tech so you could make [key technologies] more affordable.1 However, some developing countries and civil society groups have maintained that patent holders can indeed disrupt access to clean technologies through excluding third parties from utilising, exploiting or commercialising patent inventions. The Third World Network contends: ‘There are examples of developing countries and their firms being hampered from adopting climate-friendly technologies or products due to the existence of patents on these products, and unreasonable demands made by the patent holders on companies in developing countries that requested a voluntary...

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