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A patent is a great way to combat climate change – this is how green technology innovations should be protected


April 26, 2020
World Intellectual Property Day: "Innovate for a Green Future"

We can slow down climate change with green technologies, but how to protect innovations without restricting their global use? A patent is often seen only as a right to prohibit, but it also allows inventions to be safely made available for everyone to use. Our attorneys Krister Karlsson and Christoffer Karlsson reveal the undervalued qualities of this form of protection.

A patent is essentially an exclusive right to an invention and thus a right to prohibit others from exploiting the invention, so sometimes protection is even considered to be wrong and harmful. Inventions of general interest, which should be accessible to all, are a particular source of conflict.

“Juxtapositions between human rights and the business world arise easily with, for example, medical inventions and innovations to prevent climate change. For example, according to Greenpeace and the WHO, patenting creates a monopoly for multinational companies that restricts the use of inventions around the world”, head of the chemistry team and European Patent Attorney Krister Karlsson says.

However, this is not the case, and it is ultimately impossible to monopolise a vital product.

“To prevent exclusive rights in the case of medicines, for example, there exists a compulsory licence to make inventions available to everyone. Examples include HIV drugs and the coronavirus vaccine.”

Read more: Yes, it is possible to obtain exclusive rights to the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine – but it is not that simple

The aim of the developers of technologies to mitigate climate change is often to make the invention as widely used as possible. The misconception of patenting as a barrier to the spread of technology may lead to people avoiding patenting – quite unnecessarily. A patent is a friend in the fight against climate change as well.

“Finland has research and product development on technologies to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions and bind carbon dioxide released from industrial processes into solid form, as well as innovations related to the purification of flue gas, for example. Patenting does not prevent the dissemination of such inventions for wider use, but specifically makes this effective and safe”, says Patent Attorney Christoffer Karlsson.

By patenting inventions, the patent holder is able to ensure the quality of the licensed invention in the eyes of both consumers and investors.

“Since patenting is an investment that requires time and resources, a granted patent is an indicator of working and special product development that the company has wanted to invest in. That means that the invention is not just any vanity product, but has value”, Christoffer Karlsson says.

A patent is the key to control

Competitors cannot copy a patented invention while it is still in the product development phase. This allows the invention to be developed in peace until you have a functional and fully polished solution. The right to prohibit of a patent means that the patent holder can prevent poor quality and even harmful copies from appearing on the market.

“A patent gives full control over the invention, so you can keep the reins in your own hands. Without a patent, anyone can start using or manufacturing the invention without permission. The original idea of the invention may then lose its distinctiveness, and the invention or company can get a bad reputation”, Krister Karlsson says.

It is not possible to obtain a patent in every corner of the world at once, so it is important to think about the protection areas.

“Even with a patent that is valid in certain countries, the invention is freely available in areas outside them. Consequently, you should not start patenting blindly. With the help of a professional, you will find the protection areas that best suit your needs”, Krister Karlsson says.

Wide distribution through licensing

In addition to a quality guarantee, a patent also brings commercial advantages as the patent holder is free to decide how the patent can be utilised, for example, through licensing.

“The patent holder has the right to decide who can use the invention and who is turned down. A licence can be granted to the parties, and at the price, of your choosing. The invention’s distribution is thus entirely dependent on the aims of the patent holder”, Christoffer Karlsson says.

It is therefore wrong to think that a patent automatically means companies seeking to maximise profits or to limit inventions to be used by those who are able to pay.

“Utilising the invention can be made more expensive or affordable in different countries in the way you choose, and the invention can be made available for free to companies in developing countries, for example. This makes it possible to simultaneously reap financial profit and ensure that the invention reaches areas with weaker capacity to pay as well.”

Charity and eco-actions with patents

One example of charity through patents is Elon Musk, entrepreneur, inventor and CEO of the electric car manufacturer Tesla.

“Musk released all his patents related to Tesla, electric cars and their batteries for free use without charge. However, Musk represents an extreme when its comes to the free licensing of patents, and it is not necessary to license all the patents you own. You can choose to release some for free use and keep some strictly to yourself”, Krister Karlsson says.

The entire IP industry supports the patenting of inventions related to sustainable development and climate change mitigation. For example, on the website of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), you can leave your contact information if you own a technology that you want to be easily available for licensing.

“Patent authorities also have a ‘green bypass’ for green inventions, applications from which can be examined more quickly than average. So the authorities support the patenting of inventions to combat climate change in their own ways as well”, Christoffer Karlsson says.

Companies can apply for fast-track processing, which is available at no extra charge when the invention concerns bioeconomy, circular economy or clean technology solutions.

Promoting a green future and clean technologies is also the theme of WIPO, the global umbrella organisation of the IP sector, on World Intellectual Property Day on April 26, 2020. Concern for our common future is a strong unifying factor in the IP industry.

Contact us

Krister Karlsson
Associate Partner, Head of Biotech & Chemistry, European Patent Attorney
044 236 5676

Christoffer Karlsson
Patent Attorney
040 920 8122