Cleantech Patents On the Rise, But Regulation Could Give a Boost

If granted patents are an indication of innovation in a sector, clean technology breakthroughs are up significantly over the past five years, but down slightly from 2006. In 2007 a little less than 900 patent applications were granted. That’s compared to 2002, when less than 750 patents were granted in the sector, and in 2006, when a little more than 900 were granted.

The new numbers on patents come courtesy of a new quarterly cleantech patent tracking service offered by the New York based firm of Heslin Rothenberg Farley & Mesiti P.C. The so-called Clean Energy Patent Growth Index (CEPGI) tracks the number of patents granted in solar wind, electric/hybrid vehicles, fuel cells, hydroelectric, tidal/wave, geothermal, biomass/biofuels, and other renewable energy.

Though the first edition of the index was published last Friday, the firm’s cleantech practice group ran the patent numbers stretching back to 2002. As can be seen in the image below, fuel cells have provided the most fallow ground for patent-worthy innovations, with solar, wind, and hybrid/electric vehicles distant followers.

The numbers give some quantitative backing to green technology evangelists who say that energy companies have left a lot of stones unturned in the quest for cleaner energy sources. At the same time, we’re thinking if the US were to accept real caps on greenhouse gas emissions, it seems likely that we’d see an explosion of patents. That’s what happened following the passage of the Clean Air Act, which I wrote about last week. Believe it or not, regulation sometimes precedes innovation.