EPO Head Sees Need To Review IP Rules For Climate Change10/04/2008 by David Cronin for Intellectual Property Watch Leave a CommentShare this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)IP-Watch and its Global Health Policy News are non-profit independent news services and depend on subscriptions. To access all of our content, please subscribe now. You may also offer additional support with your subscription, or donate.By David Cronin for Intellectual Property Watch BRUSSELS – Changes to intellectual property rules may be needed to facilitate the use of technology aimed at addressing climate change, the head of the European Patent Office (EPO) has suggested.Next month, the 34-country EPO will host what it claims is the first major international conference to examine the patenting issues raised by global warming.Alison Brimelow, the EPO’s president, said the European Patent Forum in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana will give an opportunity to exchange ideas on whether the international system for regulating intellectual property should be modified.Some environmental and anti-poverty groups have complained that robust standards for IP protection could make it too expensive for developing countries to acquire ‘clean’ technology designed to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, the main gas blamed by scientists for triggering climate change. Friends of the Earth, for example, is advocating that the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), one of the key international accords on IP, should be amended so that so-called eco-innovations are excluded from patentability in order to make them cheaper than they would otherwise be.Speaking in Brussels on 10 April, Brimelow indicated that lessons relating to climate change could be learned from the frequently contentious debate over pharmaceutical patents.In 2001, the WTO adopted a declaration that drugs patents can be waived by developing countries to bring down the prices of medicines required to address major public health problems. That declaration was issued after a group of drugs firms sued the South African government for allegedly breaching patents in the 1990s (the case was subsequently dropped in response to a public outcry).Brimelow said that the question of access to medicines in developing countries continues to “pose challenges for the operation of the patent system.” The purpose of the Forum scheduled for 6-7 May, she said, would be to explore the challenges presented by climate change.“It is important to reflect on the challenges: is this [a particular course of action] justified; is this not?” she added. “We will have noisy occasions if necessary. But simply shouting at each other: ‘this is a problem, this isn’t a problem’, is unhelpful and immature.”Marcus Müller, the Forum’s manager, said that patents are being used in some sectors of industry – particularly in the computer field – to block competitors from using know-how that is subject to IP protection. The question of whether this problem could hinder the use of clean technology should be examined, he said.While the EPO believes that the patent system “can foster innovation,” he said, alternatives to conventional patenting are being developed. These include an ‘Eco-Patent Commons’, under which patents for clean technology are made available free of charge, and the “soft IP approach” championed by the US computer giant IBM. The latter system places greater emphasis on receiving payments for the use of patented knowledge, than on barring rivals from using such knowledge.Among those scheduled to speak at the Forum will be Yvo de Boer, executive director of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, well-known American economist Jeremy Rifkin and European commissioner for industry Günter Verheugen.Meanwhile, Brimelow said the “huge backlog” of patent applications continues to present major problems for authorities in Europe, the United States and Japan.The number of patent applications filed with the EPO rose from 211,000 in 2006 to almost 219,000 last year. Yet the number of patents it granted fell by 13 percent over the same period: from 63,000 in 2006 to 55,000 in 2007.The backlogs, she added, are not helpful for innovation. “We have big piles of unexamined patents,” she said. “And the whole justification for getting a patent is that you disclose your invention.”Since its inception in 1977, the EPO has received over 2.7 million applications and granted 850,000 patents. It recently has emphasised that it is choosing to focus on quality over quantity of patents approved.Most of the applications lodged last year were from the US (25 percent), Germany (18 percent), Japan (16 percent) and France (6 percent).Meanwhile, the EPO announced the release of the names of nominees for its Inventor of the Year 2008. This year’s list for lifetime achievement award includes: Erik De Clercq, a Belgian scientist whose antiviral innovations are integral to AIDS treatments; Stefan Hell, whose research into optical physics led to massive developments in light microscopy; and Leonardo Chiariglione, who helped set technical standards for digital TV.David Cronin may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Share this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Related"EPO Head Sees Need To Review IP Rules For Climate Change" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.