Needlessly expensive patent funding may derail climage change efforts

Europe’s institutions seem to have pledged support for green IPR protection. Even environmental groups seem to agree money paid to big business in licenses — even if these are questionable — could be crucial in pushing toward a climate deal in December.

Western governments are ready to shackle innovation through the promotion of useless patents and channelling important funds to private industry, reported Der Spiegel, featuring the work of David E. Martin, ” claims many of the patents for today’s low-carbon technologies — including some used in wind power and hybrid cars — are already in the public domain.”

Excerpts from an article by Juliane von Reppert-Bismarck:

“One of the nagging issues in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate summit are demands that the US and Europe provide massive aid so poorer countries can buy expensive emissions-free technologies. Activist David E. Martin claims many of the patents for today’s low-carbon technologies — including some used in wind power and hybrid cars — are already in the public domain.

When the host of a party predicts a flop, it rarely inspires much confidence in a good bash. With just over a month to go before international climate talks start in Copenhagen the Danish government has done exactly that: Don’t hold your breath, it said, it’s unlikely there will be a binding global deal. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso had even stronger words earlier this week: “Of course we are not going to have a full-fledged binding treaty, Kyoto-type, by Copenhagen. There is not time for that.”

Money is threatening the fight against climate change. Climate experts have priced emissions-cutting technologies needed by developing countries at €100 billion ($149 billion) a year starting in 2020, and they want to see about half of that investment burden shouldered by public funding from the United States, the European Union and Japan. The world’s poorest countries warn that without a solid promise of funds, they will walk out of the Copenhagen summit. But €50 billion is more than the loose change European states, Washington and Tokyo are willing to dole out — particularly after bailing out their banks. European leaders meeting in Brussels last week shirked concrete commitments, saying only they would contribute their “fair share” to upfront climate financing.
David E. Martin is travelling the globe to prove negotiators wrong about the cost of battling climate change.”

“Negotiators still largely hold on to the sense that patent licenses are fundamental to encouraging green innovation. To avoid hostile debate, climate negotiators hope to use part of the €50 billion for payments to patent holders, even if their patents may be redundant.

There is no official number or estimate on how much such pay-offs might be worth. Patent licenses are just one way for companies to generate wealth from green innovation. But the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change estimates green patents will boom if a global deal is sealed. That boom would be worth billions of dollars, particularly if corporations raise their license fees to profit even more from the new wave of public spending. The UNFCCC predicts the biggest boon will go to those countries that are best and quickest at filing patents, namely European states, the US and Japan — in other words, precisely those countries looking for a way to back out of financing developing countries’ climate technology.

“The money to be saved in this (through cutting back on license payments) is potentially massive,” Sanjeev Kumar, an emissions trading expert at green activist group WWF, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

“But what government is going to start? Is the US, is Europe brave enough to cut the royalty chains of large technology companies? This is a principle that is morally right but the politics aren’t there yet,” he said. “

“As if to reassure industry, European environment ministers signed a document on Oct. 21 virtually guaranteeing this would not happen. The document — to be used as a basis of negotiations in Copenhagen — stressed “the necessity of protecting and enforcing intellectual property rights (IPRs) for promoting technological innovation and incentivising investments from the private sector.”

Commentary: the article cites different experts who expect that such use of patents will severaly hamper technological progress. It undermines my own expectation that aspects of openness and participation, but especially shared designs for techno-environmental progress, will be an essential part of a new potential growth phase centered around green capitalism. It shows that this objective necessity is derailed by political forces that buy lock and stock into the neoliberal mythologies, and are still very much in power despite their responssiblity for the massive meltdown.

More Information: David Martin’s World Bank database, the Global Innovation Commons, keeps track “of gadgets whose lapsed patents in advanced energy, water and agricultural technologies represent potential license savings worth, according to the World Bank, more than $2 trillion.”