GLOBAL: Copenhagen dispute over IP

Proposals from China and India for the Copenhagen climate change conference that patent protection should be weakened for green inventions have generated significant concerns in universities, colleges and research centres.

Pro-intellectual property activists argue that a patent for their invention could mean the difference between a marketable, successful product and an interesting idea. Intellectual property rights or IPR and patent protection laws are coveted since they protect an innovator's right to their hard work.

But developing country governments have noted that licences to reproduce a product can be expensive. China and India, along with 77 other developing countries, have set out a proposal for discussion at Copenhagen to liberalise global intellectual property rights for new innovations designed to reduce carbon emissions.

The suggestion to amend patents laws has jarred some critics, who argue that green innovation and job creation could be significantly stifled if the proposal were passed.

John Vaughn, Executive Vice-president for the Association of American Universities, said: "If the proposal is just to say intellectual property rights and patents don't apply for certain technologies, that would be a problem. Universities should find ways to amend [IPR] in certain cases."

Vaughn said he hoped wealthy nations would try to work in partnership with poorer countries to find ways to change the current circumstances surrounding green technology patents and ultimately increase developing countries' access to emissions-reducing innovations.

"That's a promising way to go," he said.

In October, the Geneva and Washington-based Coalition for Innovation, Employment and Development released a study warning that weakening intellectual property rights in carbon clean technology could dampen innovation in Europe especially, and lose European jobs.

According to the coalition, "Intellectual property rights are necessary for EU firms to undertake investment in research and development of clean technology. As with any investment, if the risk on returns increases, a firm will tend to invest less. This could seriously increase compliance in reaching [green house gas] reduction targets and reduce the opportunities for job creation in the EU."

Instead of compulsory licensing, the coalition suggests developed countries transfer financial funds to poorer nations that are strictly intended for the purchase of technology that is required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A weakened patent protection will only dampen the spirits of universities, colleges etc. Most institutes these days look for those technologies which can fetch revenue and patent protection for the purpose of technology commercialization is a big encouragement factor. Apart from that governments should also think that a weakened patent protection may also prevent private sector to venture into the field.

Ruchica Goyal