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.