WIPO GREEN Leading the Way in Addressing Climate Change
WIPO GREEN, implemented by the World Intellectual Property Organization, is a free online platform for technology exchange that supports global efforts to address climate change by connecting providers and seekers of green technologies. Through its database, network, and events, WIPO GREEN brings together key players to catalyze green technology innovation and diffusion. WIPO GREEN assembles in one place various technologies at all stages of development, from prototypes to marketable products. These technologies are available for license, collaboration, joint ventures, and sale. By including eco-friendly technologies as well as technology “needs” in its database, WIPO GREEN has become the go-to platform for green technology innovation.
Climate change is one of today’s truly global challenges, affecting all aspects of socio-economic development in every region of the world. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the leading authority on global environmental matters, considers climate change to be “one of the most pervasive and threatening issues of our time, with far reaching impacts in the twenty first century.”
Climate change has been a known problem for decades, but it was not until the 2015 Paris Agreement that a major global framework was established to tackle the catastrophic threat of climate change and accelerate the actions required for a sustainable low carbon future.2 Signed by 197 countries, the ground-breaking agreement set a goal to limit global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees Celsius and paved the way for a new chapter in global action on climate change by defining a long-term vision on climate technology.2 Furthermore, the agreement aimed to increase the ability of countries to handle the impacts of climate change and to facilitate the finance flow towards low greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The Paris Agreement also set the stage for urgently needed climate change abatement technology development and technology transfer to promote low-carbon development and utilization of green technologies on a global scale. Overcoming climate change would be difficult, if not impossible, without meaningful technology transfer, especially given the limited financial resources and technical capabilities of developing countries where significant emission growth is predicted. To that end, the signatories of the agreement considered various possibilities for facilitating such technology transfer, including arrangements to address intellectual property rights such as collaborative research and development, shareware, and commitments related to humanitarian licensing and patent pools. However, to date nothing meaningful has materialized, likely due to inherent challenges such as lack of financial incentives and inadequate coordination mechanisms.
So what, if anything, are the world’s IP offices and organizations doing about this?
By far, the leading effort has been made by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in implementing WIPO GREEN, a free online platform for technology exchange that supports global efforts to address climate change by connecting providers and seekers of green technologies.3 Through its database, network, and events, WIPO GREEN brings together key players to catalyze green technology innovation and diffusion. WIPO GREEN is unique because it assembles in one place various technologies at all stages of development, from prototypes to marketable products. These technologies are available for license, collaboration, joint ventures, and sale. By including eco-friendly technologies as well as technology “needs” in its database, WIPO GREEN has become the go-to platform for green technology innovation.
At present, the WIPO GREEN database consists of more than 7,200 technologies and is utilized by more than 1,700 users across the world. WIPO GREEN currently has 127 partners including patent offices such as Canadian Intellectual Property Office, Danish Patent and Trademark Office, Intellectual Property Protection Office (Lebanon), Moroccan Office of Industrial and Commercial Property, and Japan Patent Office; companies like General Electric, Hitachi, Honda, IBM, and Qualcomm; and academic institutions like the Malawi University of Science and Technology and Queensland University of Technology. WIPO GREEN is primarily funded from the regular budget of WIPO; however, it has received contributions for specific projects and events from the Japan Intellectual Property Association (JIPA) and governments of Japan, Australia, France, and Brazil.
To date, the efforts of major IP offices in tackling climate change has been minuscule. Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) started the “Appropriate Technology” program in 2010.4 The program refers to technology that not only is tailored to the environmental, cultural, and socioeconomic factors of certain regions, but also aimed at improving the quality of life for low-income groups in less developed countries. Appropriate technology is usually economical and simple in nature, as well as easy to implement and maintain. It is also called alternative technology as in it can be used as a sustainable solution for environmental problems.
The European Patent Office joined forces with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) in 2009 to investigate the role of the patent system in climate change-related technologies and provide evidence to support an informed debate. A first study, on “Patents and clean energy technologies” (CETs), was published in 2010. 5 This was followed by three EPO-UNEP studies with a regional focus on Africa (2013), Latin America (2014) and Europe (2015). The EPO’s efforts to facilitate technology transfer have been limited to academic reports.
USPTO launched a pilot program in May 2020, the intellectual property marketplace platform called “Patents 4 Partnerships (P4P).”6 The platform is a centralized and easily accessible database of U.S. patents and published patent applications that are voluntarily made available for licensing. Once connected, parties are free to negotiate the terms of a purchase or license. While the P4P program has initially focused on technologies relevant to COVID-19 public health crisis, the USPTO does not seem to exercise control over which patents are listed in the P4P database. The program already lists patent assets directed to broad biotechnology tools and to other fields such as additive manufacturing and may expand to encompass green technology in the future.
Arguably, there should be a declaration on intellectual property and climate change—uniting the approaches of the individual patent offices, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and WIPO. Such a declaration could deal with matters of intellectual property management, protection, and enforcement. Moreover, such a declaration could also deal with possible intellectual property flexibilities—such as public licensing, technology transfer, compulsory licensing, parallel importation, and patent pools.
A basic framework and a reliance on altruism is not enough to create the kind of technology transfer necessary to have a meaningful impact on climate change. A functional, robust market must be created to drive green technology transfer. Creating this market will require the international community to successfully address three main challenges: strengthening intellectual property rights in recipient countries, establishing viable funding mechanisms, and creating a system of accountability. The real challenge, though, is not designing a system. The real challenge is getting so many different nations to agree to hold each other accountable (and to be held accountable) for achieving climate change goals. Because climate change is so much less tangible than other international crises, few nations, especially the most powerful ones, feel the pain that is sometimes necessary to spur dramatic action. In the end, it may be less important what the details of the system of accountability are, but rather that such a system exists at all.
Global efforts take time to make an impact. The UNFCCC, the seminal convention on climate change, was held in 1992, and it took over two decades for the pivotal Paris Agreement to be reached in 2015. 7 The situation is now beyond urgent, and we are at a defining moment where critical actions must be taken. The burden is not only on our leaders and organizations, but equally on us as individuals to make a difference. Perhaps the most important thing we can all do is to learn and get educated about the initiatives such as WIPO GREEN and how it can contribute to addressing the issues of climate change. We would need to create a more heightened sense of urgency with respect to climate change as well, so that it would trigger the sort of response that we saw and still see concerning COVID-19. Companies need to invest more of their R&D into innovative green technologies and think of ways to export as well as import such technologies and turn green tech transfer into big businesses. Private companies also should strengthen their relationship with local and national governments, research institutions, and academic institutions, and exert their influence to promote new policies and programs aimed at combating climate change through transfer of green technologies.
5 See http://www.eurosfaire.prd.fr/7pc/doc/1308064085_patents_clean_energy_study_en.pdf