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Press Release

Who Owns Our Low Carbon Future? - New Report

10 September 2009

Business-as-usual innovation policies by governments and companies are slowing the spread of urgently needed climate-friendly technologies, according to a new report.

Who Owns Our Low Carbon Future? Intellectual Property and Energy Technologies concludes that current business practices will not bring much-needed technologies to international markets fast enough to meet ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This is a critical issue for international public policy.

'Markets will deliver the technology we need, but it takes too long,' says Bernice Lee, one of the report's authors. 'Public policy is necessary to ensure technology spreads around the world in time to avoid catastrophic climate change.

'The debate on whether patent protection needs to be strengthened or weakened to further the spread of climate technologies is divisive and unlikely to result in constructive solutions. What is important is to ensure that technologies are adopted as widely and as quickly as possible.'

Ahead of the Copenhagen Summit, Chatham House and Cambridge IP have undertaken an extensive analysis of patent ownership and the market adoption rates of six energy technologies: wind, solar photovoltaic (PV), concentrated solar power, biomass-to electricity, cleaner coal and carbon capture. The report identifies the leading 20 patent-holding companies for each technology.

Key findings of this nine-month study include:

  • Inventions in the energy sector have taken two to three decades to reach the mass market. This is mirrored by the time it takes a specific patent to become widely used in subsequent inventions - an average of 24 years across the six sectors. To have a realistic chance of meeting climate goals, the time it takes for climate-friendly technologies to diffuse globally must be halved by 2025.
  • Technology development is primarily a national and not an international activity. Relatively few patents are jointly-owned - and nine times out of ten the owners are from the same country. Far greater collaboration is needed to speed up the spread of climate-friendly technologies - especially to developing countries. This includes support for global demonstration programmes and knowledge sharing-platforms.
  • Carbon intensive companies control much of the key intellectual property needed for the low carbon economy; for example, seven out of the top 20 owners of cleaner coal patents are from the steel sector. The report urges policy-makers to identify the assets in carbon intensive industries and harness them for low carbon development. A new global database on patent licensing data and best practices would be a quick win.

Across the six energy technologies the top 5 patent holders are ExxonMobil, Hitachi, General Electric, Mitsubishi and Sharp. Patent ownership concentration is not synonymous with a lack of competition, but it can slow innovation and deployment in some markets depending on business models. This study finds considerable variation across the six sectors. The top four wind-energy patent owners - who collectively own 13 per cent of all wind patents - produce 57 per cent of wind-turbines globally, whereas for solar PV, many of the top manufacturers have very limited patent portfolios.

Notes to Editors

Who Owns Our Low Carbon Future? Intellectual Property and Energy Technologies
A Chatham House Report by Bernice Lee, Ilian Iliev, and Felix Preston

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More information about the Chatham House project - Trade, Finance and Climate Change: Building a Positive Agenda for Developing Countries

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