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Patent Law, Green Tech, and Innovation

By February 28, 2022No Comments

Patents and the “Green” Economy

Patents awarded for intellectual property are important to the overall functioning of technology marketplaces where the government determines policy regarding the length and limitations of patents. Patents in these economic environments are effectively temporary monopolies over the manufacture and sale of technologies developed. The stated goal of these markets is to create a balanced incentive system that awards innovation while also promoting competition in emerging and high-risk industries like biotech pharmaceuticals and green technologies. Generally, investors and entrepreneurs are more likely to participate in these industries when intellectual property is respected and holds additional value due to the restriction of competition and certainty it provides to investors. This is particularly true for green technologies focused on creating a more environmentally sustainable US economy.

Managed Markets, Pharma, and Green Technology

Important to issues of intellectual property and its function in the marketplace are managed markets, a term referring to systematic management by a regulatory or governmental authority over policy dictating the commercial manufacture, sale, and overall availability of technologies.

Patent law technologies developed in these informal “managed markets” can improve lives and facilitate broader societal goals in addition to facilitating economic opportunity. They should incorporate an understanding of where green marketplaces are in their development as industries. Understanding the direction green markets have the potential to take starts with observations from the pharmaceutical industry’s more formally managed markets, where the patent award process is highly monitored and standardized. The resulting temporary monopolies prevent the manufacture or importation of generic drugs for a period of time and often benefit inventive companies with higher returns on investment, reduced risk and lower competition.

Growing Green Managed Markets

The government became more directly involved in green technology markets about 10 to 15 years ago, initiating programs that prioritized and incentivized green investment. One facet of said programs was an accelerated patent acquisition process. But these ended 10 years ago with mixed success.

At the time, speeding up the 40-year-old framework of the patent system helped create an environment where innovations were more easily brought to market. But even with the simpler, higher-volume awards process, markets have since matured and new challenges have emerged.

While the old programs (perhaps appropriately) emphasized small market players, larger corporate entities were only just beginning to seriously invest in green tech. Now, some of the biggest, most lucrative companies in the world count themselves as producers of green technologies. The previous system led to a disorderly adoption of patents for unproven technologies whose inventors may not have been able to bring the technologies to maturity or were incapable of predicting market trajectory to cohesively or competitively keep pace. Now, market domination by a handful of players and the offshoring of green capital in promising international markets is preventing the development of key national industries in what is still one of the largest greenhouse gas producers in the world.

Lessons from Pharma

Similar to the pharmaceutical industry, green technology patents have inadvertently stood in the way of their broader dissemination at all points of the technology lifecycle, whether it be in their investment, manufacture, or adoption. Lengthy and extended patents in the pharmaceutical industry are well known to have hurt the overall availability of these technologies and there is the risk of this occurring in green industries, as well. While the patent process as it stands aims to promote the transparent sharing of technology, it is still too difficult to purchase or further develop related technologies, due to tight controls over the original patents. In the long term, this hurts the longevity and versatility of innovations while slowing overall adoption.

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