Strong IPR regimes counterproductive for climate change technology transfers

SciDev summarizes the conclusions from a new report undertaken by Asian research institutes:

“The notion that climate technology cannot be transferred to a developing country unless it has strong intellectual property laws — a cherished belief among developed countries — has been called into question by a new study.

Five Asian research institutes collaborated to evaluate the domestic status and transfer of three key mitigation technologies — clean coal, solar power and biofuels — to China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

Preliminary results presented in New Delhi last week (21 October) show that developed countries’ argument that strong patent laws in developing countries ease technology transfer “does not hold water”, said Amir Hisham Hashim, of the department of electrical power at Tenaga National University in Malaysia, a partner in the study.

For example, Malaysia has a strong IPR regime, is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and has signed the Agreement on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), under which members of the WTO agreed to a minimum standard of IP laws. But the country has benefited little from the transfer of clean technologies, said Hashim.

Indonesia, too, has had a similar experience, said Retno Gumilang Dewi, a researcher at the Bandung Institute of Technology, another study partner.

Lack of transfer could be for practical reasons. The study cites several instances when technology transfers broke down. A clean coal technology demonstration project in China was scrapped because Chinese companies failed to obtain technology due to high costs and patent holders’ reluctance to transfer the key technologies.

Strong IPR regimes could even hinder developing countries’ access to technology, argued Dewi.

If a developing country is able to uphold patent law, patents are often held by foreign investors or corporations, she said. Monopoly rights held by such corporations stifle local research by preventing local firms from adapting technology to local needs, she told the meeting.

Although the need for technology transfer has been repeatedly stressed in various UN climate change documents and negotiations, it has not taken place at a scale large enough to help stall climate change, observed participants at the meeting.

The bottleneck lies in developed and developing countries’ differing views, they said. Rich countries focus on regulatory measures while developing countries prefer collaborations that help them adapt technology to meet local needs and assist with paying licence fees to use technology.

The report recommends that, because TRIPs allows individual countries to decide when to issue a ‘compulsory licence’ to override a patent on a product in a national emergency, “it would be worthwhile to have a declaration recognising climate change as a national emergency and climate change mitigation as a public good”.

Other study partners include the Energy Research Institute (ERI), China; the Energy Research Institute (TERI), India; and Thailand Environment Institute (TEI). “

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