Services

Our services are centred around intellectual property that can be registered. We protect innovation, design, and branding across all sectors of industry, and at all stages in the supply chain.

For each IP right we offer services covering strategic advice, pre-registration searches, registrations and renewals, oppositions and dispute resolution. We handle work throughout the world, working with local colleagues in over 100 countries.

Sectors

Our attorneys specialise in one or more sectors of industry, which enables them to provide quality advice with a commercial focus.

Our patent specialists have detailed understanding of the background technology, which ensures that your patent applications are prepared with the correct scope, reducing the likelihood of challenges from third parties and objections from the patent office.

They also advise whether other forms of protection would be more appropriate. Our brand specialists work with brand managers for leading brands and their advice is commercially focussed making sure that you get the best value from your budget.

COP26: innovation remain central to achieving a clean energy future


30th Nov 2021

COP26 in Glasgow was long heralded as the last chance for the world to come together with a plan to preserve the climate, and the world as we know it, for future generations. The conference concluded with a pact claiming to keep alive the goal of limiting temperature rises to 1.5C; a result which has been met with guarded optimism given that, at the start of the conference, the world was facing warming of at least 2.4C.

It remains highly debatable whether the pact is truly sufficient for the crucial 1.5C target to be realistic. What is certain is that mere pledges alone will not be enough, unless also accompanied by practical measures that will enable us to take the fundamental steps needed to achieve this goal. So much hope is being placed on science and innovation to find the path forward by improving established technologies, developing and commercialising emerging technologies, and identifying ground-breaking technologies to fill the gaps. If innovation is to succeed in playing such a central role, it is vital that the right commercial and legal framework is in place to incentivise and reward those who contribute, whilst also ensuring that any successful developments can be made available for global use in an equitable way.

As patent attorneys working with clients in the sectors most likely affected by the net-zero pledges, we were closely following COP26 for signs of how policy makers perceive innovation and the role it will play in achieving net-zero.  In this article, we share our thoughts on what COP26 has shown us, and what the future might hold for innovators and IP professionals alike.

Patents stimulate innovation (but only to a certain extent)

The IP system – specifically the patent system – is designed to stimulate innovation. In return for disclosing details of an invention, patent holders gain exclusive rights to make, sell and use the invention, or to licence these rights to others. The promise of exclusivity and financial reward pushes innovators to pursue technical innovation and encourages investment. At the same time, the requirement for disclosure encourages knowledge sharing, placing others in the sector in a better position to make their own developments.

What the patent system cannot do by itself, however, is drive innovation in a particular direction or to a specified time scale. To achieve net-zero by 2050 and stand any chance of keeping global temperature increases to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius, we cannot sit back and wait for technology to evolve at its natural pace. Intervention by policy makers – in forms such as regulation, incentivisation and public sector funding – is likely to be a key driver in ensuring that technology can evolve at the right pace and in the right areas over the coming decades.

Signs of a net-zero roadmap

Innovation is driven by the promise of financial reward. While the energy transition presents exciting opportunities for innovators, uncertainty over the future of the energy sector can become a stumbling block, with investors unwilling to support innovation in areas which may not have a future market.

COP26 was never going to prescribe a precise roadmap for net-zero. The future is too uncertain for that. However, it has perhaps shown us what ‘major highways’ we should expect to see on the map.  In particular, it seems clear that hydrogen storage, nuclear power, and carbon capture are set to play significant roles going forward.

It is to be hoped that the pledges and financial commitments now in place, will serve as a guide, helping innovators and investors to focus their resources, and enable targeted innovation in the sectors considered most critical to achieving net-zero.

The need to incentivise innovation

Policy measures are needed to create strong incentives for innovation in targeted areas of technology.  These could include public funding for R&D into new technologies, and funding to encourage consumer uptake of more established technologies. By encouraging consumer uptake, the market for a technology expands, which can in turn encourage further innovation to improve efficiency and drive down costs. Additional measures penalising or banning carbon intensive products including petrol and diesel cars, and gas boilers will create a gap in the market, incentivising innovation and investment in greener alternatives.

There are also some incentives within the patent system specifically targeted at encouraging innovation from those in the green sector.  However, many of these have remained largely unchanged for well over a decade.  If policymakers are serious about harnessing the full potential of science and technology to solve the climate crisis, then major changes to incentives in the patent system for green technologies is an important factor for consideration. We did not see anything at COP26 to suggest such changes in the patent system are imminent; however, we will continue to monitor this closely over the coming months as the full fallout from COP26 takes shape.  

An increase in collaborative innovation

A key theme at COP26 was one of collaboration – collaboration between countries and between the public and private sectors. As new technologies become ever more sophisticated, and involve an increasing number of players, collaboration will be increasingly key to reaching real-world commercialisation of innovative green technologies.  The patent system already provides effective tools, such as cross-licencing and patent pools, to allow innovators to work together. In recent years, the UK patent courts have also led the way in developing the concept a simple global licensing scheme under FRAND (fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory) terms.  Such patent tools for promoting the commercialisation of technologies developed by multiple parties have historically been the reserve of those operating in the telecoms sector. However, as net-zero becomes an increasingly global issue, we are expecting to see more and more of these mechanisms needed in green technologies. It is to be hoped that, as we move forward from COP26, world leaders and policy makers will continue to consider the role that collaboration and the sharing of IP can have in paving the path to net zero. 

Safeguarding against the negative impact of patents

While the patent system works well as a way of stimulating innovation, there are negative implications that cannot be ignored. The exclusivity that brings financial return for investors can lead to high pricing that limits access to new technologies, especially in developing economies. Allowing one player a dominant position in a particular sector can suppress competition which, in turn, can potentially stifle further innovation.

The message from COP26 is clear – addressing climate change is a global effort. Climate change mitigation technologies and technologies protecting against the effects of climate change need to be implemented globally, and not held back to due patent rights.

This is not to say that patents should be banned or handed over to the state. Such extreme measures would remove the incentive to openly innovate that the system creates, and therefore would most likely harm progress. Other creative solutions and policies should be considered. For example, as indicated above, we have already seen policy step in to set fair and reasonable licence fees for patents to technology that is essential to operation according to industry standards. Might there also be a case for policy to do the same in relation to patents for technology deemed essential to combatting climate change, or to otherwise ensure a more equitable IP system?

Conclusion

Opinions in the wake of COP26 are mixed, ranging from those celebrating the progress made since the 2015 Paris Agreement, to those arguing that the pledges and targets fall well short of what is needed. What is clear, however, is an unparalleled need to drive forward climate change innovation so that green technologies can be made ready to play their part in a net-zero future before it is too late. This presents major opportunities for innovators and investors to put in place the technological solutions that can secure our global future.

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.

Author
Duncan Nevett
Partner
About the author

Author
Georgina Ainscow
Partner
About the author

Would you like to know more? You can talk to Duncan Nevett who will be able to help. Call +44 (0)20 7242 0901

EmailVCard

Register for notifications
Enter your email address here to receive our monthly bulletin of IP news and developments.
    Please read our privacy notice.
Saved Staff
Staff member

Remove all

Saved profiles
Call +44 (0)20 7242 0901
Call +44 (0)1223 360 350
Call +49 (0) 89 206054 267
Call +(00) 31 70 800 2162