“Green” Patent Protection: A Filewrapper® Series on Environmental Technology and Patent Protection-Part ISeptember 27, 2016

Mounting scientific evidence that the global climate is changing has sparked a new wave of innovation in the field of environmental technologies. Many of these improvements to existing technologies have been patented and licensed, enhancing the financially lucrative nature of research and development in this industry. However, in some instances, despite technological advances, environmental harm is not being remediated. This seems counterintuitive, as more and more environmental technologies are patented; however a number of complicating factors—including population growth—represent barriers to effectively addressing the identified harm. 

In this Filewrapper® series focused on patent protection considerations for environmental technology, you will be provided with an overview of current technology-driven environmental regulatory laws as well as current programs and protections for environmental technologies. In addition, practical notes on utilizing patent and alternative protections will be given to assist you in protecting your intellectual property.

To start, a statistical perspective on the prevalence of environmental technology patents may help to set the stage. Based on data obtained from the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, between the years of 1999 to 2006, approximately 1.6 million patents have been granted. Of those, 106,281 (approximately 6%) have been in the area of environmental technology. The number of environmental patents increased steadily over this time period.

Further, as the Kyoto Protocol became effective in 2005, the number of environmental patents increased dramatically relative to the prior six years. At the same time, the number of patent litigation cases filed has increased. While exact figures regarding environmental patent litigation are not currently available, if we assume that litigation in environmental technology has kept pace with patent litigation in general, it is reasonable to conclude that over the course of 1999 to 2006, environmental patent litigation has shown the same marked increase. This presents an interesting tension between the motivations of patent law, designed to aid particular patent owners, and the technology-based permitting and regulatory structures for environmental control, which are ultimately designed to aid the public health and welfare. This tension is one between the desire to help others and serve the greater good, but also to protect the fruits of innovation and labor.

Stay tuned over the next four weeks where we will explore this tension more and begin with a discussion of how patent considerations are influenced by technology-based environmental regulatory structures.

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