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‘Who owns our low carbon future?’

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Current business practices will not bring much-needed technologies to international markets fast enough to meet ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, says a new Intellectual Property and Energy Technologies joint report by Chatham House and CambridgeIP.
This is a critical issue for international public policy, concludes the report, ‘Who owns our low carbon future?’

It is important to provide the right facts to policy makers and corporate strategists around the very important debate on IP rights in the low-carbon energy technologies. Policies and corporate strategies should be based on facts and not myths said Ilian Iliev, CambridgeIPs CEO and a co-author of the report. We deployed the patent mapping capabilities and knowledge of IP strategies that are usually only used by corporate clients to the area of policy advice. We trust this will be a valuable resource for both the public and private sector in developing technology support strategies.

‘Markets will deliver the technology we need, but it takes too long,’ says Bernice Lee, one of the reports authors. ‘Public policy is necessary to ensure technology spreads around the world in time to avoid catastrophic climate change.

The debate on whether patent protection needs to be strengthened or weakened to further the spread of climate technologies is divisive and unlikely to result in constructive solutions. What is important is to ensure that technologies are adopted as widely and as quickly as possible.

Ahead of the Copenhagen Summit, Chatham House and Cambridge IP have undertaken an extensive analysis of patent ownership and the market adoption rates of six energy technologies: wind, solar photovoltaic (PV), concentrated solar power, biomass-to electricity, cleaner coal and carbon capture. Based on a 57,000 patent datasets, the report identifies the leading 20 patent-holding companies for each technology, and specific trends in over 30 sub-sectors.

Key findings of this nine-month study include:

* Inventions in the energy sector have taken two to three decades to reach the mass market. This is mirrored by the time it takes a specific patent to become widely used in subsequent inventions – an average of 24 years across the six sectors. To have a realistic chance of meeting climate goals, the time it takes for climate-friendly technologies to diffuse globally must be halved by 2025.

* Technology development is primarily a national and not an international activity. Relatively few patents are jointly-owned – and nine times out of ten the owners are from the same country. Far greater collaboration is needed to speed up the spread of climate-friendly technologies – especially to developing countries. This includes support for global demonstration programmes and knowledge sharing-platforms.

* Carbon intensive companies control much of the key intellectual property needed for the low carbon economy; for example, seven out of the top 20 owners of cleaner coal patents are from the steel sector. The report urges policy-makers to identify the assets in carbon intensive industries and harness them for low carbon development. A new global database on patent licensing data and best practices would be a quick win.

* Across the six energy technologies the Top 5 patent holders are ExxonMobil, Hitachi, General Electric, Mitsubishi and Sharp. Patent ownership concentration is not synonymous with a lack of competition, but it can slow innovation and deployment in some markets depending on business models. This study finds considerable variation across the six sectors. The top four wind-energy patent owners

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