EU countries top world ‘green patent’ rankings

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While moves to develop an EU patent have intensified with the Belgian presidency, which believes it can reach a consensus by the end of the year, a new study shows that three European countries are among the six nations dominating innovation in the clean energy sector.

According to a comprehensive new study by the European Patent Office (EPO), Germany, France and the UK join Japan, the US and South Korea in leading the emerging green tech revolution, filing 80% of all patent applications in the field.

EPO Chief Benoît Battistelli said China, India and Brazil are catching up quickly and have ramped up their efforts in niche clean tech sectors. China is now the major player in the wind energy sector, despite having published very few patents in this industry until five years ago.

"In wind energy, China has gone from being nowhere five years ago to being the leading player globally. For India and Brazil, photovoltaic technology and hydropower are the major sources of patents," said Battistelli.

Political signal sparks green innovation

The study by the EPO, the UN Environment Programme, and the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development, reveals a surge in new patent applications in the clean energy sector following the Kyoto protocol.

Battistelli said political signals can help spur investment by industry in low-carbon technology, arguing that a future deal on climate mitigation could generate a new wave of innovation in the energy sector.

"The key message is that the policy and regulatory framework influences how businesses invest. In all environmental issues the market is decided by the regulatory framework. The market needs to be framed," he said.

Meanwhile, the Belgian presidency tabled a non-paper aimed at breaking the deadlock over proposals for a single EU-wide patent system

The paper was discussed at the Competitiveness Council yesterday (30 September), where the majority of member states recognised the importance of an urgent solution and sided with the text drawn up by the European Commission at the end of June, reads a presidency statement. But a small minority of countries still had remarks concerning this text or formulated a counterproposal.

The EPO study, published yesterday (September 30), provides details of where green-industry patents are held and whether they are licensed. Battistelli says there is willingness in the industry to offer more flexible terms to low-income countries.

Technology transfer continues to be a key issue in climate talks and the EPO plans to take its study to the next round of negotiations in Cancun later this year. The data compiled as part of the study is available free online and will be updated daily.

"This kind of information has become central to climate negotiations where the role of patents is controversial – many people consider patents an obstacle to technology transfer. But until now, the discussion has not been based on hard data. This study will feed into the debate on climate change and technology transfer, said the EPO chief.

Battistelli said some see patents as a brake on the dissemination of innovations in the clean tech sector.

To read a full interview with EPO President Benoît Battistelli please click here

"Far from being a drag on economies and innovation, international efforts to combat climate change have sparked technological creativity on low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy solutions. The challenge now is to find ways in which these advances can be diffused, spread and transferred everywhere so that the benefits to both economies and the climate are shared by the many rather than the few," Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said.

Ricardo Meléndez-Ortiz, ICTSD Chief Executive, said 1.4 billion people have no access to modern forms of energy and this must be addressed.

"A massive scale-up of use and diffusion of Clean Energy Technologies globally, and in particular to developing countries, is imperative for effective climate change mitigation and adaptation. This study provides evidence and key insights towards a better understanding of the challenges facing this objective," he said.

Steven Stone, Chief of the UNEP Economics and Trade Branch, said the intellectual property framework can provide an important stimulus for private sector innovation. The UNEP will launch a report next year examining the role of investment in green technologies.

He said technology transfer will be a key part of any comprehensive climate deal. "We cannot ask developing countries to take a low-carbon path without offering some incentives," said Stone.

The concept of 'technology transfer' – the sharing of knowledge, materials and technologies – has become a key element of negotiations on climate change. 

China and India have repeatedly noted that developed countries bear primary responsibility for climate change and are pushing the EU and US to support poorer nations by providing them with clean technologies

Deciding which technologies could be shared and on what terms is emerging as a stumbling block to political consensus on how to tackle climate change.

At the same time, experts say China is moving faster than the EU and US on innovation and could overtake developed countries in key green energy sectors.

  • November 29: UN climate talks begin in Cancun

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