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About the study

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The role of patents in the development and transfer of clean energy technologies to address climate change has been hotly debated in the lead-up to the 15th UNFCCC Conference of Parties in Copenhagen (COP 15). Despite increased research and analysis in this field, there is still a lack of empirical data for informed and objective decision-making.

To help bridge the gap between evidence and policy, UNEP, the EPO and ICTSD have conducted a joint study to develop a methodology providing a solid platform for analysing the role of patents in the development and transfer of clean energy technologies, with a view to feeding the findings into ongoing international talks.

Given these objectives, the study was divided into the following steps:

Technology mapping

In order to identify the technologies relevant for the patent landscaping, ICTSD commissioned a mapping study of various technologies in the energy supply sector. Experts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) validated the study. The published mapping study is available on the ICTSD website.

Patent landscaping and analysis

As a second step, EPO patent examiners used the findings of the technology mapping to identify all relevant patents worldwide. Their work also gave rise to a new patent classification scheme, which will enable this information to be made available to the public for the benefit of the research community.

The key areas of clean energy technology targeted in the searches were wind energy, hydro/marine energy, solar energy, geothermal energy, biofuels and clean coal. Various sub categories of each of these technologies were also considered. The OECD was then asked to carry out a statistical analysis of the patent data gathered. Its analysis includes information on:

  • major trends in inventive activity, as measured by patent counts, and the role of public policy
  • degree of country-level specialisation in clean energy technologies, relative to other technologies
  • degree of maturity of the different technologies and their applications
  • extent of international co operation on these technologies.

The analysis also looked at where in the world, including developing countries, technology holders patent their inventions. Preliminary findings of the patent landscaping and analysis show that, over the past few years, there has been a marked increase in patenting activity in clean energy technologies as compared to technologies using fossil fuel energy.

Survey of licensing practices

Working together with relevant industry and business associations, the institutions invited various technology holders identified in the patent landscape to take part in a global survey of the practices of leading companies and organisations with regard to the licensing of clean energy technologies. The aim was to achieve a better understanding of the factors behind technology transfer. The survey is believed to be the first to shed light on such practices.

There were three parts to the survey. The first part addressed the more general aspects of the targeted right holders' licensing practices and activities. It focused on the share of patents for the relevant technologies in the respondent's overall patent portfolio, the extent of activity relating to out-licensing and in-licensing of clean energy technologies, shifts towards licensing in its business strategy over the past three years, activities based on additional collaborative intellectual property (IP) mechanisms (patent pools, cross-licensing, joint ventures, strategic alliances, etc.) and the relative importance of different IP-related activities for the overall business strategy.

The second part concerned licensing in developing countries. Here, the survey investigated the extent to which the respondent is engaged in licensing activities in developing countries, with a view to identifying the main developing countries currently benefiting from licensing activities, establishing the relative importance of the various factors affecting the decision whether to enter into licensing agreements and other collaborative IP based activities in developing countries (e. g. protection of IP rights, scientific capacity, infrastructure and human capital, market conditions and investment climate) and ascertaining the respondent's willingness and ability to offer more flexible licensing terms (also financially) in developing countries.

The aim of the third part of the survey was to provide a typology of the respondent (private company, academic institution, governmental body, national laboratory, consortium, etc.) and obtain information on the location of its headquarters, its size (multinational, large but concentrating on domestic markets, SME, not-for-profit, etc.), the clean energy technology fields it operates in and the intensity of its R & D activities.

The survey results are based on an aggregate analysis of all responses and do not refer to individual respondents. In order to respect their data privacy and protect other sensitive commercial data, the respondents' names have not been disclosed. Of the 600 technology holders contacted, 160 responded, which provided a useful statistical sample set. Of these respondents, 66 % were private companies, 18 % academic institutions and 4 % government institutions.

The final report was published on 30 September 2010.

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