Countdown to Copenhagen: The debate over technology transfers and the protection of intellectual property

The debate over the role of technology transfers in any future climate change treaty is set to intensify as the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen approaches. On one side, there are those who believe that intellectual property (IP) rights should not stand in the way of international cooperation on climate change. For example, Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu has suggested that it may be necessary to “share all intellectual property as much as possible,” especially when it comes to certain vital technology like systems for capturing and storing carbon dioxide. A report issued this month by the Center for American Progress and the Global Climate Network warns: “Intellectual property (IP) law can also act as a barrier, and measures to encourage companies to use or relinquish IP (and in some circumstances to use the flexibility already available through the World Trade Organization’s TRIPs agreement) may be necessary.” The report recommends that “patents could be withdrawn if developers seek inappropriately high rents from their IP protection or use IP to restrict a technology’s use.”

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