• IPTT Team

GREEN IP: THE KEY TO A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE

We are excited to bring to you a guest post by Subodh Singh the participant who secured the 8th position in our 1st National Essay Competition, 2020. However, this post is the author's personal views and the Blog/Website does not personally endorse any work.

Intellectual Property rights have been conceptualised as a protection and reward system for new innovations and discoveries. The term intellectual property is used to denote the intellectual ideation of humans and to quantify it as a property. Intellectual property rights hence ensure the rights of the creator of a product or innovation are protected from infringement and the originality of works are maintained. The common types of Intellectual Property include copyrights, patents, trademarks, geographical indicators, plant varieties etc.


Before moving to the issue at hand, it is prudent to understand the concept of green technology. With the acknowledgment of climate change and global warming by all the nations of the world in the last decade, much emphasis was placed on developing methods and techniques that would not incur any environmental cost in the form of carbon footprint or excessive resource depletion. Green Technology was considered as a step forward in this direction. Any technology that causes an appreciable reduction in the adverse impact on the environment resulting from any human activity simultaneously maintaining the same level of activity can be considered as green technology.


A few popular instances of green technology are methods of generating green and renewable energy, sustainable buildings and townships, waste management and recycling to name a few. Another offshoot of Green Technology is Environmentally Sound Technology (ESTs). The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has defined ESTs as, “Environmentally Sound Technologies (ESTs) are technologies that have the potential for significantly improved environmental performance relative to other technologies.”


ESTs conserve and preserve the ecology, are less polluting, use resources in a sustainable manner, recycle more of their wastes and products, and handle all residual wastes in a more environmentally acceptable way than the technologies for which they are substitutes. ESTs are not just individual technologies. They can also be defined as total systems that include know-how, procedures, goods and services, and equipment, as well as organization nal and managerial procedures for promoting environmental sustainability. It can be considered as a subset of green technology.[i]


Green Intellectual Property is still a relatively budding and new concept. As the name indicates, Green IP is any intellectual creation which furthers the cause of sustainability and is in coherence with saving the environment from degradation and pollution. It includes any discovery, invention or technology which effectuates a considerable reduction in the ill-impacts on the environment that might be caused by a parallel yet unsustainable technology without any difference in the intended output. In layperson terms, Green IP is the ecologically balanced intellectual invention which helps keep the environment clean and green. Green innovation becomes the need of the hour today as such innovations creates a new set of goods and technologies which promote a far more sustainable and desirable pattern of consumerism.


Thus, Green intellectual property refers to the protection of innovations in the field of green technology. It is a concept where innovations which are helpful to environment in one or the other way are legally protected.


As elaborated, environmentally sound technologies constitute green intellectual property. Drawing on similar lines is term Green Innovation. However before defining green innovation it is important to discuss the concept of sustainable development. Coined by the Brundtland report, which was commissioned by the UN, sustainable development was defined as meeting “the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The concept of sustainable development does imply limits - not absolute limits but limitations imposed by the present state of technology and social organization on environmental resources and by the ability of the biosphere to absorb the effects of human activities”[ii]. The UNGA in 2015 adopted a resolution which laid down 17 sustainable development goals which the international community ought to achieve by 2030. Green innovation or eco-innovation is what emerged as the prime candidate to make these sustainable development goals a reality. Eco-innovation can be defined as a process of production, manufacturing or utilisation of a product that results in the lowering of social and environmental cost. This kind of innovation causes less harm to the environment as compared to an alternate means of production, manufacturing or utilisation.[iii] Green innovation is the only way forward to ensure sustainable development and hence its promotion is a key prerogative of the governments of different countries across the world. World Intellectual Property Organisation has introduced the concept of green intellectual property to ensure the protection and incentivization of eco-innovation.


WIPO also designated the World Intellectual Property Organisation Day 2020 with the theme of innovation for a green future. This corresponds with the efforts WIPO has been making to promote progress in the fields of sustainable technology such as WIPO Green. Green Innovation can only be incentivised and promoted if adequate intellectual property rights are provided to the innovation. Intellectual property rights grant the innovator the monopoly to use, sell or license his technology. Incentive to innovate depends on how lucrative the bundle of rights offered are. Longer patent holding, easier and faster paperwork processes are some ways to promote green innovation. Green intellectual property is primarily reflected in the concept of green patents.


A Green Patent is any product or invention which is beneficial to the environment in some way. It can include alternate and cleaner sources of energy or any technology to reduce the impacts of global warming. It is a recent development in the field of intellectual property which many countries around the world have come up with to counter environmental issues like climate change, global warming and promote ideas that have a significant ecological value. The idea behind green patent systems worldwide was to incentivise the ideas and technology from which the ecology could benefit and something that would also promote new eco-friendly models of business.


Businesses and enterprises have lately started adopting the sustainable model of innovation which includes employment of technologies that helps reduce carbon footprint and utilises renewable sources of energy. Their innovations are being recognised by the governments and the corporate social responsibility assessment agencies and they are being awarded with green patents for novel and sustainable inventions.[iv]


The Need for Green IP and Green patents:

1. Green IP incentivises innovations by rewarding ideas that help sustain the environment which is under immense degradation as a result of the precarious activities of human beings.

2. Green Intellectual Property gives an opportunity to the developing countries to also contribute to the development of sustainable technologies, a market which has been predominantly controlled by developed nations like China and the US.

3. Providing protection to environment innovations under Green IP and Green Patents gives rise to the production of eco-friendly goods and services such as bio-degradable plastic, wind, solar and hydroelectricity etc.

4. Innovation is essential to establishing new patterns of production and consumption. It opens up markets and opportunities while at the same time addressing environmental risks and keeping the cost of such a transformation low.

5. By registering green patents separately, data analysts and researchers are able to estimate and quantify the scientific breakthroughs happening in the field of green technology. Patent data also serves as a measurement device for the results achieved through the implementation of these green patents around the globe.

6. It is pertinent to note that one of the primary motives of granting monopoly rights was to promote technological innovation and environmental benefit. Since green technologies tend to protect the environment by reducing the hazards caused to nature by the human intervention, it is essential to take an initiative for providing a fast track procedure for protection of Green Intellectual Property.[v]


In conclusion, a working and effective system of Green IP protection coupled with effective government policies and commercialization methodologies can provide the most efficient framework for the global diffusion of green technologies.[vi]


Fast Tracking Green Patent Applications: Since 2009, many patent offices, mainly in industrialized countries, have put in place schemes to fast track ‘green’ patent applications. These include the UK IP office, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the Korean Patent Office, the Australian IP Office, the Japan Patent Office and the Canadian IP Office. In April 2012, the Brazilian National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI) announced a pilot program to accelerate green patent applications. The objective is to encourage innovation in green technologies by bringing new products to the marketplace more quickly.[vii] It is advantageous to have a fast-track green patent system as it mitigates the duration of bringing the patent into the consumer’s market to be used as a regular product. Fast-track patents also enhances the “diffusion of clean technologies”.


One of the most prominent international steps to promote Green Intellectual Property was taken by World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) when it launched its initiative called WIPO Green. WIPO Green is an initiative of the World Intellectual Property Organisation which was launched in 2013 as an “interactive workplace that connects technology and service providers with those seeking innovative solutions.” It is essentially a global marketplace that promotes green technology and diffusion. It includes an online database and network that interlinks stakeholders from different fields working under the broad umbrella of ‘green technology innovation chain’ and connects people who might be interested in retail of such green technologies or implementing it to further develop new green products. Thus, WIPO Green helps in accelerating innovations that are helpful against environmental problems like climate change etc. [viii]


WIPO Green in the recent years has developed technology databases for its partners which serves as a medium for these companies and players to store their green and ecological patents. With such a systemic listing out of the patents, it becomes very convenient for interested parties to browse through these patents. An advantage of digitalisation and compartmentalisation of green patents and technologies on WIPO Green is that it reduces the paperwork and makes the process of using these technologies on the real ground very quick and efficient.


There are many challenges in the path of promoting green innovation for a healthy and sustainable future. Underdeveloped third world countries are still struggling in providing their citizens with basic essentials. They lack the resources and skilled labour to carry out a shift towards green technology. Additionally, an important factor in ensuring a green future is the diffusion of the existing ESTs. Due to restrictive trade policies and limited foreign direct investment of many countries, it is next to impossible for them to reap benefits of innovations happening in the other parts of the world. Inadequate intellectual property protection in a country might deter foreign innovators from selling their technologies.[ix]


Green IP becomes extremely relevant today as an incentive to promote and accelerate the global campaign against climate change. With the rapid development of green technology, the prerogative shifts on the governments of the world to ensure the swift and effective implementation of protection of Green Intellectual Property. In addition, Corporate Social Responsibility dictates the corporate sector to use these green patents for technological development, international collaboration, technology diffusion which in turn shall hopefully lead to a sustainable present and a cleaner and greener tomorrow. Thus, only a collective, coordinated effort of both the corporate and the government sector can ensure that Green IP becomes a widely recognised instrument in the near future that helps fast-track the fight to conserve our environment.

[i] UNEP: https://www.unenvironment.org/regions/asia-and-pacific/regional-initiatives/supporting-resource-efficiency/environmentally-sound [ii] Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future, Transmitted to the General Assembly as an Annex to document A/42/427 - Development and International Cooperation: Environment [iii] René Kemp and Peter Pearson, Final report MEI project about measuring ecoinnovation, Project co-funded by the European Commission within the Sixth Framework Programme (2002-2006) [iv] Using Green Patents to Create a More Sustainable Business, Ecovadis, (Apr. 7, 2017), https://resources.ecovadis.com/blog-ecovadis-9/using-green-patents-to-create-a-more-sustainable-business-2. [v] Singh and Associates, Green IP - a new way to blossom, (Sept. 29, 2012) https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=766fc345-be8c-4dab-ae6f-f152de0c472b [vi] Singh and Associates, Green IP - a new way to blossom, (Sep. 29, 2012) https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=766fc345-be8c-4dab-ae6f-f152de0c472b [vii] Fast-tracking Green Patent Applications: An Empirical Analysis by Antoine Dechezleprêtre, London School of Economics and Political Science, ICTSD Global Platform on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainable Energy: Issue Paper 37 [viii] https://www3.wipo.int/wipogreen/en/aboutus/ [ix] Anja von der Ropp, WIPO Green: Facilitating Dissemination of Green Technology, WIPO Magazine (June 2012) http://www.wipo.int/wipo_magazine/en/2012/03/article_0006.html

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