Clean Technology Industry: Relevance of Patents and Related Service Providers

Clean Technology Industry: Relevance of Patents and Related Service Providers

Liina Tonisson, Lutz Maicher
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8222-1.ch011
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Many clean technology transfer barriers have been associated to Intellectual Property (IP) rights. The objective of this chapter is to give insights to the types of IP rights services the clean technology industry needs to overcome. By conducting in-depth qualitative interviews with a convenience sample of 25 clean technology companies in 2012, most outsourced intellectual property-related services were discovered. The clean technology companies specified the following top three IP services required from service providers: legal services for IP protection, legal services for IP transactions, and IP consultancy (i.e. IP portfolio analyses). The companies investigated outsource IP-related processes to service providers. That leads to the conclusion that outsourcing patent-related activities is an efficient management decision for the clean technology industry. Outsourcing tasks to competent service providers who are familiar with foreign technology and legal markets were found to be especially useful against infringement threats from developing countries.
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1. Introduction

The degree to which intellectual property rights (please see “Key Terms and Definitions” at the end of the chapter) are important varies over the comprehensive range of clean technology companies (Wright & Shih, 2010). Clean technologies cover a broad range of fundamentally different types of innovation, including alternative energy resources, technologies retaining alternative energy sources, energy storage, distribution and management technologies, recycling and waste technologies, industrial processes, and technologies for capture, storage, and sequestration or disposal of greenhouse gases (Popp, 2010). The core technologies behind clean innovations vary greatly, and range from high-tech innovations to low-tech innovations. These technologies differ in other ways as well, for example the fixed costs of innovation, the patenting and adoption involved and their applicability across industries (Hall & Helmers, 2010).

A patent on a basic invention with no substitutes may allow its holder to block follow-on inventors who would be willing to invest in R&D to create socially useful applications. That kind of invention stands out from the variety of low – or high tech inventions because as an example, in the case of an owner who has patents covering fundamental clean technology inventions essential for advancing follow-on research, such as research tools in biotechnology areas, his/her patents do not allow other inventors to access those patented clean technologies in reasonable conditions. Any innovation processes in these cases could be harmed, and thus public benefit could be decreased considerably. To address this issue, some public authorities develop guidelines for patent licensing in certain technology fields closely related to the public interest for the purpose of advancing further research by facilitating the diffusion of patented technology. The OECD Council, for example, adopted in 2006 Guidelines for the Licensing of Genetic Inventions that outlines principles and best practices for the licensing of genetic inventions used for purposes of human health care. These licensing guidelines are also applied to genetic inventions used for the purpose of human health care. Nevertheless, no such guidelines for environmental technologies exist (OECD, 2006a, 2006b, 2006c).

For almost all of the various technologies that promote sustainable development managing industrial property rights successfully is a key to business sustainability. The clean technology industry in general is patenting and therefore the companies must address the issue. Inventions in some technological fields such as biotechnology rely to a large extent on patenting, other technologies such as irrigation systems, construction techniques or more service-related sectors may be largely free of patenting (Smithers & Blay-Palmer, 2001). For some technologies, intellectual property rights protect only components of a technology. For others, intellectual property rights protect the end product. One example is the agricultural sector where the need for local adaptation of clean technologies to extremely heterogeneous local conditions may also limit the importance of intellectual property rights (Hall & Helmers, 2011). The number of renewable energy patents issued in the U.S. ballooned from 200 per year between 1975 and 2000 to 1,000 per year between 2000 and 2009, according to a study released in 2013 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Santa Fe Institute. Most of the growth has come from solar and wind technologies, whose yearly growth rates have approached or exceeded the growth rates of new patents for other technologies such as semiconductors and digital communications, according to the study (Bettencourt, Trancik & Kaur, 2013). The renewable patent explosion has been driven by a raise in the R&D investment as well as government programmes designed to promote renewable energy development, and intellectual property service providers do not expect the push for new clean technology patents to subside anytime soon. That has made legal service providers speculate that the increasing rate of new clean energy patents will soon spur a rush to the courthouse by patent holders looking to protect their increasingly profitable innovations leading the way to patent wars (Goldberg, 2013).

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