26 April 2020 is World Intellectual Property Day. World Intellectual Property Day is an event established by the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) to inspire the public to “learn about the role that intellectual property rights play in encouraging innovation and creativity”. Each annual event has a theme and this year’s theme, focussing on climate change, is “Innovate for a Green Future”.
The European Commission has set a target for the European Union to be carbon neutral by 2050. The UK Government agreed to this goal and in 2019 the UK became “the first major economy in the world to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming by 2050”. One significant way in which many countries are moving towards being carbon neutral is to change their energy mix to rely more on sustainable and clean energy such as bioenergy, solar and wind, and less on fossil fuels.
Given that the UK is a country that was built on coal-fired power stations fuelling heavy industry, it has taken significant long-term investment to increase use of renewable energy and reach the UK’s current energy mix, in which only 39% of the UK’s energy is generated by burning fossil fuels. 2019 even saw the UK go a period of two weeks without using coal to generate electricity – the longest period since the 1880s. However, it will take further substantial long-term investment for the UK, and other countries, to become carbon neutral. World Intellectual Property Day 2020 will look at how intellectual property rights can protect the innovations resulting from such significant investment, and support a transition to a sustainable carbon neutral economy.
Patents will play an important role as we move towards a greener future. A patent is used to control commercial use of an invention that provides a new solution to a technical problem. Patents help innovators to get a financial return on their investment in research and development.
Figure 1 shows the trend in patent applications in energy-related technologies from 2002-2017. Although there has been a slight decline since 2012, the number of patent applications related to sustainable energy technologies has grown significantly since 2002, particularly in the areas of solar energy technology and wind energy technology. This may be a sign that more innovation is taking place in these sectors then in other areas, more companies are including intellectual property protection in their business strategy, or perhaps a combination of these two factors.
Trend in patent applications in energy-related technologies, 2002–2017
WIPO (2019). World Intellectual Property Indicators 2019. Geneva: World Intellectual Property Organization.
Registered designs are used to protect aspects of the shape and appearance of a product. As clean energy technology develops, the physical appearance of clean energy devices may become increasingly important. For example, it could be easier to encourage homeowners and housebuilders to install wind turbines and solar panels into homes if these devices have an aesthetically pleasing design. By registering a design, a designer can protect their hard work and stop third parties from manufacturing similar looking products.
Trade marks protect signs, such as names and logos, that distinguish origins of goods and services from one another. As more green energy devices and gadgets are brought to market, identifying the origin of these goods may become ever more important. Registered trade marks allow a company that has built a strong reputation for their sustainability to protect their brand.
Intellectual property rights, including patents, registered designs and trade marks, will play an important role in encouraging and protecting the innovation that is necessary to achieve the ambitious targets set by the European Commission and the UK government. If you would like to discuss how an effective IP strategy can help your business, or for more information about the various forms of intellectual property protection, please contact us.
This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking any action in reliance on it.