South Africa A Leader In Renewable Energy, Lagging In IP Rights

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Cape Town, South Africa – Leader of the newly formed Renewables Club and rated as a world leader in the green energy race, South Africa has done little to secure this advantage with intellectual property rights of its own.

The Renewables Club, which along with South Africa includes China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Morocco, Tonga, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the UK, accounts for more than 40 percent of global investments in renewable energy.

In May, US-based research body the Pew Charitable Trust reported that rapid investment growth made South Africa the ninth-leading destination for clean energy investment among the Group of 20 (G-20) of the world’s developed and emerging economies.

South Africa’s “green” efforts were rewarded last month when Google announced it is investing $12 million in the Jasper Power Project, a solar power plant that will be built in South Africa’s Northern Cape Province. On completion, the 96-megawatt solar facility will be one of the largest solar power plants on the continent.

The scale of the solar power plant confirms that Africa holds massive potential for the development of renewable energy, a fact supported by a recent joint study by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the European Patent Office (EPO) Patents and Clean Energy Technologies in

According to the study, the lack of patents filed in Africa for clean energy technologies (CETs) means that these technologies can be freely exploited in Africa. But the lack of these patents to protect their products means source companies may be reluctant to offer up their know-how to promote technology transfer.

The report found that Africa’s intellectual property system requires further development to better support the transfer of technology that can mitigate climate change.

South Africa is currently in the process of drawing up a general national IP policy envisioned to be applicable across all government departments.

South African patent attorney Madelein Kleyn explained in a written response to Intellectual Property Watch that the role of intellectual property rights in the transfer of climate change technologies has emerged as a particularly contentious issue in the past few years.

“Clean energy investments in particular as the technologies involved are both research and capital-intensive and investors want to be able to capture the benefits from their technological innovations through strong IPRs,” she said. “At the same time, IPRs can be perceived as a barrier to the access and transfer of clean energy technologies from developed and emerging economies to developing countries.”

Kleyn said the analysis of the impact of IPR regimes on technology innovation and transfer in clean energy technologies is a relatively young field of research in which comprehensive empirical and econometric analyses have only recently been undertaken, but she added that at a glance, the patent landscape indicates an increase in patenting clean energy technology as as opposed to fossil fuel energy.

Kleyn added: “The patenting activity across all clean energy technology appears to be dominated by Japan, US, Germany, Korea, Great Britain and France. Recent work by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has shown that in the case of African markets, very few (about 1 percent) climate mitigation and adaptation technologies are actually protected under IP regimes. ”

Kleyn said that the importance and impact of IPRs on the transfer of technology are likely to be context specific.

“In remote rural locations of low-income countries for example, the need to expand energy access requires the rapid deployment of well-known renewable energy technologies, for which IPR protection might be less critical,” she said.

Simphiwe Ncwana, the director of commercial law and policy in the South African department of trade and industry, said that the government understands the value of an IP policy that is relevant across all departments, and that’s why the proposed national IP policy is in the works. A specific timeframe for its completion though, has not been confirmed.


Linda Daniels may be reached at

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