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Summary:

Intellectual property rights have a long history as a cornerstone of Silicon Valley lobbying efforts. Welcome to the latest chapter: defending IP rights against the potentially eroding force of international climate deals. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is spearheading a new effort to ensure that U.S. […]

Intellectual property rights have a long history as a cornerstone of Silicon Valley lobbying efforts. Welcome to the latest chapter: defending IP rights against the potentially eroding force of international climate deals. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is spearheading a new effort to ensure that U.S. lawmakers and climate negotiators don’t — in their efforts to make clean technologies available to developing countries — weaken rules about who can profit from those innovations.

The Chamber of Commerce rounded up something of a motley crew for the launch of its new Innovation, Development & Employment Alliance, or IDEA: representatives from Microsoft, General Electric, startup Sunrise Solar and auto supplier Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems joined the Chamber’s Global Intellectual Property Center President, David Hirschman, in announcing the new group in Washington, D.C. earlier this week.

Right now, IDEA is mainly worried about the UN climate negotiations coming up in Copenhagen in December. In a recent interview with the Green Patent Blog, Caroline Joiner, Vice President of the Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center, said the upcoming talks represent “the IP battle of the year.”

Their concern stems in part from the position taken by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu that the international community should take a “very collaborative” approach to improving energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Here’s the larger context for Chu’s comment, as reported by the New York Times’ Dot Earth blog (he’s not calling for an all-out attack on IP protections):

You don’t build a power plant, put it in a boat and ship it overseas, similar to with buildings. So developing technologies for much more efficient buildings is something that can be shared in each country. If countries actively helped each other, they would also reap the home benefits of using less energy. So any area like that I think is where we should work very hard in a very collaborative way — by very collaborative I mean share all intellectual property as much as possible.

Hirschman, with the Chamber of Commerce, has taken isssue with the idea of opening up advanced clean technologies, as has GE’s Ecomagnination chief, Steve Fludder.

Some cleantech entrepreneurs see a hefty stake in the matter, too. Scott Faris, CEO of Planar Energy Devices, a battery developer spun out of the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory said in an interview Thursday:

There’s a direct correlation between IP protection and the flow of capital, particularly for smaller companies. If we’re doing cutting edge stuff, we have to carve out a defendable stake with enough time to build up. That’s what investors look at — how defendable is your position?

Guy Sella, CEO of SolarEdge — a stealthy power-conversion developer based in Herzliya, Israel, that has been reluctant to reveal much about its technology over the last few years — also weighed in on IDEA’s stance. In an email, he cautioned against “any weakening” of existing IP protections for energy innovations said his team “fully agrees” with the line IDEA is taking. He also wrote:

Innovation and development cost lots of money, and without protection for the developing companies and their investors, there will simply be less innovation and less development.

Sella doesn’t see this as entirely self-interested — IP works to the benefit of developing countries where Chu and others want to see swift deployment of cleantech, he said. “Keeping well-proven IP protections as they are,” he said, “is good both for the innovating companies and for the developing countries benefiting from the innovations.”

Faris pointed out that international collaboration doesn’t necessarily mean yanking IP from private companies’ hands. There’s also the national labs, and other organizations that, “have a broader goal in life.”

Neither Faris or Sella described the Copenhagen talks as the looming doomsday that it represents for some, but rather seemed to see this as an ongoing issue for innovators and policy makers to work on. Faris said he doesn’t think U.S. lawmakers have a good understanding of the IP protections that cleantech startups need. “If you had an elected body full of engineers and scientists, you’d have an understanding,” he said. “I’m glad to see there’s a debate.”

  1. Rodger Sadler Friday, May 22, 2009

    I am a patent attorney, and believe strongly that a strong system for protecting IP rights is essential to driving the innovation needed if the U.S. is going to lead the world in developing, implementing, and exporting 21st century clean energy technologies.

    I also am a huge supporter of the Obama Administration’s efforts to lead us into a new clean energy economy. Not sure if the U.S. Chamber of Commerce totally shares my enthusiasm, given its opposition to the Waxman-Markey Energy Bill.

    Some of you might be interested in this article of mine, which Bloomberg published recently – “Protecting and Profiting from Intellectual Property in President Obama’s Clean Energy Economy” (available online at: http://www.orrick.com/fileupload/1813.pdf).

    Keep up the great reporting.

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  2. [...] Other stuff: Andy Revkin on the coming battle over clean technology and intellectual property rights, suddenly a hot-button issue. And not just for the big boys like GE, notes Earth2Tech. [...]

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  3. Scott Garrison Friday, May 22, 2009

    Mark Weisbrot at the Monthly Review Foundation wrote an article “Patent Fundamentalists Threaten the Future of the Planet” proposing compulsory licenses that you may find of interest. http://bit.ly/A9w31 I agree with Roger that IP protection does provide incentive to the creation of solutions.

    Scott Garrison
    http://www.linkedin.com/in/scottbgarrison

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  4. [...] While the group at last week’s meeting agreed on six business-friendly steps for a global climate deal, Salzman noted two points of relative disharmony at the summit, both likely to come up again in Copenhagen. One is “the role of the private sector, let alone the entrepreneurial subset of the private sector,” in relation to government. A second hurdle for negotiators will come from the question of how to deploy cleantech innovations in developing economies, an issue that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has said will make the Copenhagen talks the “IP battle of the year.” [...]

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  5. [...] climate deal doesn’t weaken rules about who can profit from cleantech innovations. As we’ve noted before, the V-P of the Chamber of Commerce’s intellectual property center called the UN climate [...]

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  6. [...] climate deal doesn’t weaken rules about who can profit from cleantech innovations. As we’ve noted before, the V-P of the Chamber of Commerce’s intellectual property center called the UN climate [...]

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  7. [...] climate deal doesn’t weaken rules about who can profit from cleantech innovations. As we’ve noted before, the V-P of the Chamber of Commerce’s intellectual property center called the UN climate [...]

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  8. [...] on the global market, the new research center seems to be far from their worst fears. When we spoke with several entrepreneurs recently about IP protections and climate policy, Scott Faris, CEO of battery startup Planar Energy Devices emphasized “a direct correlation [...]

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  9. [...] technology if they’re not selling it in a particular market — can be seen as either a doomsday scenario for innovation, or a fair way to ensure distribution of beneficial but expensive tech. The highest-profile [...]

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  10. [...] that the VP of the Chamber of Commerce’s intellectual property center has called “the IP battle of the year” — the Obama administration took a step today that could have more immediate implications [...]

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