EU Parliament Urges Change In IP Rules For Environmental TechnologyPublished on 29 November 2007 @ 9:33 pm
Intellectual Property Watch
By David Cronin for Intellectual Property Watch
BRUSSELS – Intellectual property rules should be reshaped to ensure that they do not hinder developing countries from gaining access to technology considered vital for addressing climate change, the European Parliament has declared.
Members of the Parliament (MEPs) on 29 November approved a report that urges examination of the possibility of revising the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). TRIPS may need to be amended, the report suggests, in order to allow for the compulsory licensing of environmentally-friendly technology that is patented.
This call follows criticism by environmental activists of the European Union’s insistence on robust protection of intellectual property. The policy was laid out in a 2006 paper from the European Commission entitled Global Europe, which stated a determination to demand a high level of IP standards in markets where European firms operate.
Friends of the Earth (FOE) argues that this policy is making crucial technology too expensive for developing countries. It advocates that TRIPS be altered so that technologies geared towards fighting climate change are excluded from patentability in order to push their prices down.
“With a high IPR [intellectual property rights] regime, products and processes are now patented and less accessible,” said FOE campaigner Meena Raman. “So to really achieve the transfer of climate-friendly technology, the biggest incentive would be to eliminate IPRs [intellectual property rights] related to these technologies.”
Dalindyebo Shabalala of the Center for International Environmental Law in Geneva said waiving patents could be necessary to ensure the wider availability of fuel-efficient cars. These vehicles are designed to cut emissions of carbon dioxide, the main gas blamed by scientists for triggering climate change.
“The automobile industry is fully protected with respect to IP,” he noted. “There are hundreds of patented products in cars. The EU’s insistence on high IP protection is an insistence on a high price for climate change-related goods. This means that people in developing countries cannot afford to pay for them.”
While TRIPS does allow for exceptions to patents in cases of public health or environmental emergencies, he feels there is a case to be made for making those provisions clearer. “TRIPS can be a barrier [to technology transfer] if it is interpreted in a certain way,” Shabalala added. “There may be a need for more clarity.”
The Parliament’s report was drafted as part of preparations for the international conference on climate change in Bali, Indonesia (3-14 December), which is likely to launch talks on framing a successor to the 1997 Kyoto protocol for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
French Green MEP Alain Lipietz, the author of the report, said the EU is already a world leader in developing renewable energy technologies such as solar panels and wind turbines. It should also become a world leader in exporting “environmental goods and services,” he added.
As well as revising IP rules, he called on the EU to remove the tariffs it levies on imports of “green goods” such as low-energy light-bulbs, and to campaign for an end to subsidies for heavily polluting industries.
But Stavros Dimas, the European commissioner for the environment, claimed that IP protection does not present as great a problem as some maintain. Often, he said, there are many types of technologies that can allow the same approach, citing the availability of numerous different wind turbines.
“The cost component of the intellectual property rights is judged to be a relatively small part of the total cost of such technologies,” he said.
Although he acknowledged that IP rights can prove a barrier to technology transfer, he said that other issues such as the economic policies of developing countries need to be taken into account. “Many companies will not invest in developing countries if their IPRs are not protected and if capacity-building in the host country is inadequate.”
Dimas gave a commitment that the EU will use the Bali conference and any ensuing talks to push “for a better understanding of the full range of barriers” to technology transfer.
David Cronin may be reached at email@example.com.