Clean-Energy Cause Shouldn’t Void Patents, Senators Tell Obama
The administration shouldn’t waver in its “support of American intellectual property, American workers, and American innovators” during climate-change talks next month in Copenhagen, the lawmakers said in the letter to Obama yesterday that was circulated by Senator Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat.
Developing nations have cited a World Trade Organization ruling as grounds to break patent protections on drugs in health emergencies. Some seek a similar approach to wind- and solar- energy innovations in the name of curbing global warming. U.S. companies such as General Electric Co., which makes wind turbines, would be forced to give free or low-cost access to patents under such proposals.
“They want companies in the U.S. to give away their technology,” said Lawrence Kogan, head of the Institute for Trade, Standards and Sustainable Development, a Princeton, N.J.- based group that advocates for intellectual property rights. It’s part of an effort to “treat intellectual property as a utilitarian tool to promote development.”
Delegates from about 190 nations will meet in Copenhagen next month in the effort to complete a global-warming treaty. How to help fast-growing developing countries pay for clean- energy technology is one of the unresolved issues.
U.S. officials such as Todd Stern, special envoy for climate change, and Ron Kirk, U.S. trade representative, have said the administration won’t weaken intellectual-property protections.
India, Brazil and China, the world’s largest greenhouse-gas emitter, want easier access to licenses to make and export systems that produce electricity with fewer emissions, said James Love, an economist with Knowledge Ecology International, a Washington-based group that follows intellectual-property negotiations.
“If what you’re trying to do is mobilize the world to do something about climate change, you could actually be in favor of a lot of compulsory licensing,” Love said in an interview. “If you want to deal with climate change, you want buy-in from developing countries.”
World Trade Organization agreements should be interpreted to “allow compulsory licensing of patents for the production of climate-friendly equipment and goods that embed climate-friendly technology,” the United Nations’ Geneva-based Conference on Trade and Development said in a report released on Sept. 7.
The sharing of some clean-energy patents has support from Senator Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat from West Virginia, a coal- producing state. He said he backs development of “national technologies” to reduce carbon dioxide from burning coal that “nobody can put a patent on.”
Senate Democrats began committee debate this week on legislation to limit greenhouse gas-emissions. The House passed a climate-change bill in June.
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“Unless we take aggressive action to protect the intellectual property of our entrepreneurs and manufacturers, we will continue to watch profits and jobs migrate overseas,” Sen. Bayh said. “Protecting our innovations in international climate negotiations will encourage the development of more American technology and help us maintain the economic strength we will need to advance our efforts to reduce carbon emissions.”
“We must fight to protect American innovators, entrepreneurs and manufacturers involved in creating our cutting-edge clean energy technologies,” Sen. Voinovich said. “It is universally held that the answer to climate change lies in technology. Now is not the time to take away a major incentive, undermine innovation and weaken our economy. We must protect American IP - thus protecting American jobs, creativity and innovation.”
Bill Keith, President of SunRise Solar in St. John, Indiana praised the letter, saying, “Senator Bayh is bringing attention to the protection of American patents and breakthrough innovations at a critical time. Some countries are using the climate change negotiations as a means to obtain our technological designs. If they succeed, it will cost Indiana jobs and harm our global competitiveness. Our Hoosier-made products contribute to the fight against global warming and stimulate job growth, and environmentally responsible companies like ours must be protected as the climate change debate moves forward.”
The letter sent to the president highlights the importance of safeguarding IP rights for clean technology as the United States takes part in the U.N. climate change negotiations this December in Copenhagen. It recognizes the president’s commitment and asks for his support for IP rights in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and urges further support from American negotiators as the process continues. There are international efforts to weaken IP protections, which the senators strongly oppose.
The senators also recognize the importance of a strong IP system in attracting the research and development dollars needed for investment in new technologies that will bring jobs and solutions to global problems. IP rights allow innovators to attract the investment needed to develop and market their ideas, promoting economic growth and prosperity and creating high-value American jobs.
Sens.Bayh and Voinovich have worked hard to protect American innovation for years. The senators introduced legislation in the 110th Congress designed to address intellectual property rights enforcement issues and to protect American innovation and advancement. The legislation was introduced July 2008 by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ranking Member Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Sens. Bayh and Voinovich. The bill was signed into law October 2008.