Licensing and Patents for Green Technology and Drugs

The Seed Magazine ‘pan­el’ (who?) was asked How can intel­lec­tu­al prop­erty be adap­ted to spread green tech?

Their short answer starts by look­ing at drug licens­ing (the last sen­tence is quite shock­ing):

By World Trade Organ­iz­a­tion law, if a pat­en­ted drug can improve pub­lic health in a devel­op­ing coun­try, it’s avail­able for com­puls­ory licens­ing. That means that devel­op­ing coun­tries can make gen­er­ics of the drug while pay­ing a small roy­alty instead of the full fee to the patent-holder—a prac­tice that makes pat­ent-hold­ing com­pan­ies deeply uncom­fort­able. To date, the only drugs so licensed have been anti­ret­ro­vir­als to fight AIDS in Africa.

The pan­el then go on to look at the pos­sib­il­ity of, and issues with, extend­ing this form of licens­ing to also cov­er ‘green tech’:

Strong pat­ent laws have sig­ni­fic­ant bene­fits. Should com­pan­ies lose trust in patents—should they fear that their ideas will no longer be fin­an­cially respec­ted as theirs—they have an incent­ive to make the ideas cor­por­ate secrets instead of pub­licly avail­able pat­ents. The European Pat­ent Office fore­sees the bur­geon­ing of such leg­ally pro­tec­ted secrets should pat­ents be rendered less bind­ing.

Mak­ing tech­no­logy pat­entable and thus prof­it­able has indeed been a good way to encour­age com­pan­ies to invest in ideas that serve the pub­lic good. How­ever, when bil­lions in the devel­op­ing world who could bene­fit from these ideas can­not afford the cur­rent sys­tem, we need to con­sider how it can evolve.