Green and gold: investing in cleantech related IP in Australia
This article first appeared in the Chinese-language edition of Managing Intellectual Property. To download the article in Chinese, please click here.
Green and gold are the national colours of Australia. These are the predominant colours found on many species of the Australian native plant Wattle that has green foliage and golden clusters of flowers. Metaphorically, the gold is symbolic of Australia’s significant mineral and fuel reserves – but what of the green? Originally symbolic of Australia’s natural beauty and rich biodiversity the colour green may these days be a metaphor for the opportunities in Australia for the development and implementation of clean, renewable and energy efficient technologies. Australia is unique in possessing both diverse and abundant renewable energy resources as well as significant reserves of traditional fuels such as coal, natural gas and uranium. There are therefore great opportunities in Australia for development of technologies both for harnessing renewable energy sources and for improving the efficiency or reducing the environmental impact of using traditional energy sources.
According to a recent report1, patenting activity in clean energy technologies has increased at a rate of 20 percent per year since the adoption of the Kyoto protocol in 1997, significantly outpacing patenting activity in traditional fuel and energy technologies such as fossil fuels and nuclear energy. The report also indicated that as of 2007, the six leading patent filing countries for clean energy technologies were Japan, USA, Germany, the Republic of Korea, the UK and France. China appeared just outside the top six but was noted particularly with respect to patent filing in the areas of solar photovoltaics and geothermal energy technologies.
However, as we move into 2011, China is now regarded as the most important and fastest growing marketplace for clean energy technologies. This reflects that China is moving towards a clean energy economy, and within the country this is being strategically underpinned in a number of ways, especially through investment in research and development. In its 27th Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Indices, Ernst and Young allocated China the number one position noting the record amount of funding provided to its wind industry in the last quarter of 2010 represented nearly half of all funds invested in new projects around the world. In November of 2009, a report by Breakthrough Institute stated China, South Korea and Japan have already collectively passed the United States in the production of virtually all clean energy technologies, and over the next few years, these countries will be expected to out-invest the United States. Clearly, the world market for clean energy technologies has shifted away from the US and Europe and is now concentrated in the Asian region.
With such a geographical shift in the location of markets for clean energy technologies, US and European companies are now looking to change focus from their own markets to those in Asia. In the same vein, however, China and Chinese companies are looking for green technology opportunities. No doubt many such technologies will be developed through R&D investment in China associated with specific technologies. However, another approach involves seeking out new markets in which to undertake R&D and to implement and commercialise the fruits of research. One country that that has significant potential in this regard is Australia.
The Australian Government understands the importance of moving away from fossil fuels and has legislated for renewable energy sources to provide 20 per cent of all electricity generation in Australia by 2020. This is viable because Australia is rich in potential sources of green energy. According to the Australian Trade Commission, over 1,950 KWh of sunlight per metre per year is absorbed over 90 percent of Australia’s landmass, indicating that Australia could support a significant solar energy industry. The country also has the world’s hottest non-volcanic geothermal environment and parts of the country receive consistent strong winds. The capacity of wave energy impacting on the coastline of Australia has been estimated as being 170,000 MW. Australia’s large and relatively unpopulated landmass also means the country is ideal for clean energy infrastructure and for producing feedstock for biofuels.
On the other hand, Australia has significant reserves of conventional fuels, such as coal, gas and uranium. Such fuels are still incredibly important going forward and developments for their continued and improved extraction, processing and/or use must form part of any clean energy program.
The Australian economy is strong and stable and Australia is recognised for its world-class research and development expertise. To assist companies looking to invest in the clean technology industry, Australia has a strong and flexible intellectual property system which ensures the intellectual property rights of patent holders are respected and enforced. In addition to the standard patent system providing a monopoly right for inventions for a term of 20 years, Australia also includes an innovation patent2 right (similar to the Chinese utility model) which provides a monopoly for a period of eight years. However, in contrast to the Chinese utility model, it is also possible to obtain an innovation patent for methods and processes, which can be significant for the commercialisation of clean energy technologies.
Indeed, the Australian Patent Office recently announced it would be taking action to assist innovators with clean energy technologies to fast track their patent applications through the Australian patent examination process. This initiative is intended to contribute to reducing the time to market for clean energy technologies.
Clearly much has shifted in the global clean energy technology market place in the last decade and we are now seeing the centralisation of the industry in the Asian region, with China leading the way. Over the next ten years this sector will not only generate important technologies critical for securing environmental sustainability, but will be a significant generator of employment opportunities and economic growth across the Asian region and, in particular, in both China and “green and gold” Australia. Central to all of this will be reciprocal trade and investment between China and Australia in clean technology related IP.
- “Patents and clean energy: bridging the gap between evidence and policy”, Sept. 2010 by United Nations Environment Program, European Patent Office and International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development.
- For more information on Australian Innovation Patents see the article by Julian Curwen that appeared in the MIP Chinese Edition, March 2010 Edition- click here.