WIPO, The ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Of Climate Change Policy, Urged To Awaken

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The World Intellectual Property Organization has taken its first public steps in the climate change debate by holding a conference on the subject this week. The organisation’s expertise in intellectual property policy and technology transfer is being sought by several other actors in the field, in particular the United Nations climate change agency.

During the 11-12 July conference on innovation and climate change, intellectual property was the underlying focal point of the meeting to which various stakeholders were invited to speak.

Most speakers agreed that intellectual property is only one of the factors that can promote the transfer of needed clean technologies to developing countries but most also agreed that IP was an incentive for innovation. Other links in the chain are national production and engineering capabilities, access to markets, financing, and policy environment, they said.

WIPO Director General Francis Gurry said the patent system constitutes the memory of humanity’s technology and stressed the importance of access to the repository of this memory. He also presented “WIPO Green”, a technology exchange platform to be launched in the second part of 2011. According to the WIPO Green presentation leaflet, it aims at supporting the United Nations Framework Convention Climate Change (UNFCCC)’s technology mechanism agreed to in Cancun, Mexico last December. WIPO Green was originally developed in collaboration with industry, in particular the Japan Intellectual Property Association, it said.

The platform will provide a focal point for prospective users of new technologies, with information about access to technology, technical assistance, licensing and financial support. It will also offer “reputational benefits for companies proactively engaged in promoting the uptake and diffusion of green technologies.”

In Cancun, intellectual property rights were very polarised and the last document of the Ad Hoc Working Group on long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA), which mentions the establishment of this technology mechanism, does not mention IP. The discussion on IP was left to take place at the next UNFCCC Conference of the Parties, in Durban, South Africa, on 28 November – 9 December 2011 (IPW, Environment, 14 December 2010).

Climate Change Not Only Province of UNFCCC

Mexican Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba said during the opening session at WIPO that greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 had reached an historic level that threatened the goal set in Cancun of keeping the rise in temperature to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. Developing countries need support to improve their mitigation actions, he said. More incentives need to be created to spread technologies and grant more access to those technologies around the world, he added. Climate change is not the only responsibility of UNFCCC, he said, all United Nations agencies and regional agencies “will have to make contributions so that we can achieve results,” he said.

WIPO Needs Climate Change’s “Awakening Kiss”

José Romero of the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment said in his personal capacity that very often recipient countries of technology transfer do not have a clear assessment of their technological needs. For both climate change mitigation and adaptation it is important to understand how to benefit from technology that is already in the public domain and build capacities on those technologies. Clear technology objectives facilitate innovation and technology transfer, he said.

IP rights are necessary, Romero said, as a just reward to innovation, but these IP rights should give room for good-will discussions, under special circumstances, on duration of IP rights or condition of access, with warranties from governments to inventors.

WIPO should be more involved in the UNFCCC process, he said, in particular in the area of technology transfer. WIPO, “like Sleeping Beauty, has been rather quiet under the UNFCCC process.” It is time that “the climate change people provide the sweet kiss to Sleeping Beauty in Geneva,” he said.

Later in the conference, Romero said that problems should not be created where they do not naturally occur, and in the context of the UNFCCC, developing countries are bringing up the issue of IP but it would be more interesting to assess the needs and find solutions to address those needs.

UNFCCC representative Wanna Tanunchaiwatana, from the Adaptation, Technology and Science Program, said that the private sector needs to be closely engaged in order to keep the commitment taken in Cancun to reduce greenhouse gas emission and hold the global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius. She said the technology transfer and IP discussions would come back in Durban and the UNFCCC hoped to reach some agreement on IP issues at that time.

WIPO Deputy Director General on Global Issues Sector Johannes Christian Wichard said that the use of IP is not well understood in negotiations and IP is very technical and complex. He said WIPO was providing tools to help in the climate change debate: as an information resource, a forum for discussion, and a catalyst of partnerships.

WIPO can share its unique expertise in innovation technologies and IP, Wichard said. WIPO already helped UNFCCC participants to understand how IP works and how the system can be best used, he said. WIPO held side events during UNFCCC meetings. WIPO has also issued a new publication series: the Global Challenges Brief and the Global Challenges Report, he said.

The first issue of the Global Challenges Brief [pdf] is titled “When policy meets evidence: What’s next in the discussion on intellectual property, technology transfer & the environment?” and is authored by Meir Perez Pugatch from the University of Haifa, Israel. The first issue of the Global Challenges Report [pdf] is titled “Intellectual Property & the Transfer of Environmentally Sound Technologies,” and has the same author. Pugatch’s past work has been supported by the IP-based industry through his role with the London-based Stockholm Network think tank.

WIPO Deputy General for Innovation and Technology Sector James Pooley said that a primary challenge, and at the same time an opportunity, was “to ensure the patent system is there to achieve the positive objectives for which it was originally designed.” It should incentivise innovation through a reward system and at the same time ensure the dissemination of that information “to the general public and to everyone that can make use of that information.”

The conference included three breakout sessions on innovation, technology transfer and finance. According to Quentin Tannock, chairman of Cambridge IP, a United Kingdom IP consulting group, and rapporteur of the breakout session on innovation, the session discussed the need to include a full range of participants in order to foster innovation and the necessity for the private sector to have security for their research and development, with a key factor being IP protection, as 65 percent of R&D is conducted by the private sector and 55 percent of R&D financing comes from the private sector.

Mohammed Asaduzzaman, research director of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, and rapporteur of the breakout session on technology transfer, said that one persistent element of the discussion was IP protection and the legitimate right of inventors. However, in technology transfer, IP is just one element. For example, policy coherence at the national and international level is needed, he said, so that policies do not end up by having conflicting results.

The rapporteur of the breakout session on finance, Ari Huhtala, senior environmental specialist at the World Bank in Washington, DC, said the discussions were focused on the issue of adaptation costs, the need to develop resilience in developing countries, and resource mobilisation. A market-based approach might not be functioning well in developing countries and the distribution of funds should seek to balance mitigation and adaptation.

Costs can be significantly brought down by using local managerial expertise, but the bottom line for private companies is certainty and predictability, he said, and in developing countries the IP system remains a challenge, he reported.

Green Technology Patents on the Rise

The International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD), on Monday, gave a presentation of a joint study of the United Nations Environment Program, European Patent Office and ICTSD, published in October 2010. According to the presentation, the patenting rates in selected clean energy technologies have increased at roughly 20 percent per year since 1997. Patenting in this sector is led by six actors: Japan, the US, Germany, the Republic of Korea, France and the United Kingdom, but other countries such as Brazil, India, Mexico, and Ukraine are becoming significant actors in selected fields.

Little out-licensing activity towards developing countries was registered among participants in the survey conducted for the joint study, and there is a need to improve market conditions and encourage licensing to improve technology transfer to developing countries, they found.

Catherine Saez may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

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