September 2, 2014

Sustainable Development Requires Sustainable IP Protections

By Ashley Mergen

It only took about 100 years from the introduction of the gas-guzzler Model T to perfect and mass-market an eco-friendly hybrid, like the Prius. And though solar power dates back to the history of time, we still have yet to integrate solar energy into most daily parts of our lives (and not just on calculators).

We clearly have a very, very long way to go until we—as a country, as a society, as a human race—become environmentally sustainable. Collectively, we rely on the Henry Fords, Steve Jobs, and Marie Curies of the world to take this enormous task head-on.

In short, the future is ripe for green innovators.

That is, if we choose to cultivate them. Currently, countries are amid discussions in the United Nations (UN) to determine how best to address environmental challenges globally. Unfortunately, talks and proposals around the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are missing the point on innovation and weakening the very intellectual property (IP) policies that could ensure the future of green tech.

The GIPC recently joined a distinguished group from the business community in expressing concern with some of the proposed weakening of IP rights in the UNFCCC process, saying:

Intellectual property rights encourage the investment in advanced manufacturing technologies… and help encourage investments in cleaner and more efficient energy options and other technologies that support both domestic and economic growth and sustainable development.

Without strong IP rights for innovators, the rewards—and therefore, the will—for risk-taking in a field that requires significant monetary and human capital will diminish. This means that issues arising from climate change will continue to outpace our ability to develop solutions to address them. That could be a real problem.

So while some countries are using the UNFCCC to relax IP standards in a hope to widely disseminate new green technologies, a real problem arises: if there’s no IP protections or rights, will there be any technologies to access in the first place?

Subscribe for updates from GIPC