The green side of intellectual property and its role in energy transition innovation

The green side of intellectual property and its role in energy transition innovation

The transformation of the global energy sector to renewable energy sources is enabled by technological advancements and the global pursuit of sustainable solutions. As energy transition continues to gain steam, intellectual property (IP) rights underlying those technological advancements and improvements made to competing technologies will be foundational to this transition.

Key IP considerations in energy transition

Some of the key issues and risks that will have to be well understood and mitigated within these energy transition initiatives will be:

  1. IP ownership, especially in collaboration with research and development (R&D) partners, whether from academia or industry, joint venture partners, or service companies;
  2. Licensing, and the scope and flexibility of rights and obligations; and
  3. Infringement risks – guarding against possible infringement of third-party IP rights to avoid project disruption.

Furthermore, as businesses focus on generating new products and services in this sector, we are seeing the inevitable increase in protection efforts. As is common in other sectors, patents are central in the protection of technology. R&D activity at leading wind-power companies has given rise to many new patents pertaining to all elements of wind turbine design, manufacture, and operation. The continued growth of the electric vehicle industry is translating into patenting related to batteries, motors, controllers, chargers, charging infrastructure, wireless electric vehicle charging, and testing equipment. Alongside patents, trade secrets, copyright and confidential information on various aspects of the data interpretation and analysis, algorithms and software and the manufacture and deployment of these technologies are also valuable forms from a protection standpoint.

Design rights are also very complementary to other IP rights as they can offer a simple way to protect the aesthetic appearance of a new product. Finally, companies looking to promote green credentials are applying for trademark protection with the launch of new products and services but care should be taken before definitively selecting those names – clearance to avoid identical or confusingly similar names that may already be in use by competitors will avoid issues in the future. As well, merely descriptive product names for the characteristics of the products or use of the terms “green” or “eco” as examples, may not be protectable.

The advantages and flexibility of IP rights driving innovation

The main purpose of IP rights is to encourage more innovation and creativity by making sure inventors and creators are rewarded for their work and for publicly sharing the technological information of these the innovations serving as a spark for new ideas, further advancements and improvements that can then be made by anyone.

IP rights also allow those who hold them to prevent others from copying or using their IP without their authorization. This creates opportunities for rights holders to protect their investment, create a competitive advantage, and have the ability to generate revenue by charging for the use of their IP. These revenues can help fund follow-on R&D and support business growth and employment. The prospect of a financial reward encourages businesses to invest in developing innovations and branded products and services that are beneficial to the environment and to all of us.

There have also been calls for global sharing of IP and for companies to strike a fair balance between IP protection and renewable energy investment. IP rights are flexible and companies have the ability to leverage those rights in a number of ways – they can, for example, seek a return on the resources they put into developing greener outputs through commercialization and licensing programs while also sharing aspects of the resulting IP by exploiting innovation on non-commercial terms or open-source-like arrangements. If a company wants their invention to remain in the public domain, secured IP rights can ensure that no third party can exploit the invention commercially without the company’s consent.

As the global pursuit of sustainable solutions continues, corporate strategies and governance that incorporate an IP strategy on the necessary use, protection, and risk mitigation of energy transition innovation will be a driver of successful development and deployment of these new technologies.

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