US Industry Campaign: IP Needed To Address Climate Change, Economy

Intellectual property rights are a key to innovation, the mitigation of climate change, an incentive to spur the economy and a creator of jobs, according to participants in several recent industry events and activities.

On the threshold of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference in Copenhagen in December, intellectual property rights remain an important issue. Industry groups have launched a campaign with the message that IP rights – patents in particular – are essential to incentivise technological innovation to save the world. But others say patenting of environmental technologies could impact technology transfer to developing countries and the availability of those technologies (IPW, Environment, 16 September 2009).

Several industry events were held in the US and Europe over the past week. Meanwhile, at an informal UNFCCC negotiation in Bangkok this week, working groups are looking to draft a text on technology transfer to stop climate change.

On 23 September, the Coalition for Innovation, Employment and Development organised an event in Geneva about IP rights and climate change. The coalition is a lobbying group focused on IP issues and composed of the US Chamber of Commerce and other industry associations, companies and institutes.

Kenya is already feeling the effects of climate change, according to James Otieno-Odek, managing director of the Kenya Industrial Property Institute, and moderator of the event. “IP holds the key,” he said.

In the context of the United Nations climate change conference in December, the European Union is hoping for an ambitious international agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Christian Jerveland from the Copenhagen Economics, a free-market consultancy. But this means a massive need for clean technology and “we do not have the technology available today to meet such an ambitious target,” he said.

This surge in the need for green technology will create a lot of “high-knowledge intensity” jobs and a lack of “good regulation” could jeopardise the opportunity, according to Jerveland. IP rights provide clarity and safety and are necessary for EU firms to undertake R&D investments, he asserted.

Environmental innovation can only be disseminated if there is a receptive environment and the right incentives for technology transfer, said Lee Feldman, director of the National Peace Foundation. There are many obstacles to technology transfer, among them the uncertainty surrounding the costs and benefits, and the lack of financial requirements. IP rights do not constitute a major hindrance to technology transfer, Feldman said. Rather any impediment is attributable to small market size, lack of infrastructure, lack of scientists or researchers, or communications infrastructure. “Compulsory licences would not solve this,” he said.

Gregory Kalbaugh, director of the US-India Business Council, praised the value of incremental pharmaceutical innovation as opposed to radical innovation. Incremental innovation involves technical modifications of an existing product, process or system that would bring an improvement over that product.

Sixty percent of the World Health Organization essential drugs list is made up of incremental innovations, he said.

Section 3(d) of the Indian patent law, which provides exemption from patentability to prevent patent evergreening “is not good for anybody,” he said, adding that reforming the patent act could encourage India’s incremental pharmaceutical innovation.

Indian officials in Geneva have said that India aims to meet all its international obligations and at the same time safeguard national interests. The India Patent Act seeks to balance IP protection with public health, they say. Non-governmental groups and human rights advocates are strongly in support of this legislation preventing any extension of an existing patent, according to sources.

According to a report prepared for the coalition by White & Case LLP and DUA Consulting, section 3(d) of the Indian patent law is preventing the Indian population from benefiting from the vast majority of useful incremental pharmaceutical innovations. The report also claims that Indian pharmaceutical companies have filed hundreds of patent applications directed to incremental pharmaceutical innovations in other countries.

Intellectual Property Rights as a Trade Tool

On 30 September, during its Global Intellectual Property Center annual summit, the US Chamber of Commerce presented a report claiming that global “efforts to weaken” intellectual property rights, such as compulsory licensing, in the context of the ongoing climate change negotiations, could potentially lead to green job losses.

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