TODAY’S STUDY: AFRICA’S NEW ENERGY OPPORTUNITY
Patents and clean energy technologies in Africa
16 May 2013 (European Patent Office and United Nations Environment Program)
Africa has a huge untapped potential for generating clean energy, including enough hydroelectric power from its seven major river systems to serve the whole of the continent's needs, as well as enormous potential for solar energy, wind energy, geothermal energy etc. Although major hurdles exist also in the distribution of energy there is potential for Africa to leapfrog existing fossil fuel energy sources and exploit clean energy from the outset to meet its developing needs.
At the original UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED, or the "Earth Summit") in Rio de Janeiro, June 1992, intellectual property and patenting in particular was highlighted by some participants as a significant factor limiting the transfer of new clean technologies to developing countries, and identified as a barrier to these countries meeting new emission limits for CO2 and other Greenhouse Gases.
The issue was also raised in the Rio +20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012.
The present study aims at providing facts and evidence to evaluate the actual situation concerning patenting of Clean Energy Technology (CET) in Africa. It builds on an earlier study in this field carried out jointly by the EPO, UNEP and the ICTSD using methodologies and tools developed1
. The actual patenting landscape of CET is analysed 1980 – 2009 in Africa and its sub-regions. The landscape is divided by technology area, and includes solar heat and PV, hydroelectric, wind and biofuels and other sources. Both Climate Change Mitigation Technology and Climate Change Adaptation Technology (CCMT/CCAT) are analysed. The origins of the patent applications are analysed, as well as the levels of co-patenting with and between African states.
The "Patent Information" system, available worldwide via the internet and using dedicated tools such as the EPO's free Espacenet database, has with the EPO's specially developed Y02 classification scheme tagged and indexed some 1,5 million documents relevant to most climate change related technologies by end 2012. The Y02 scheme is fully incorporated within the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC).
Together with the EPO's "PATSTAT" patent data statistical tool, patent information data relating to CETs and tagged with the Y02 scheme may be analysed and used to inform policy makers. The results show that less than 1% of all patent applications relating to CET have been filed in Africa.
The results also show however that there is a relatively high level of inventive activity in Africa in the field of mitigation technologies. This activity is mostly focused on energy storage/hydrogen/fuel cell technologies (37%) and renewable energy (25%), in particular solar PV and solar thermal, followed by nuclear energy (20%) and biomass/waste/combustion/CCS technologies (17%), especially biofuels. While the global growth rate on overall inventive activity is 5%, in Africa the growth rate overall is 9% and is a staggering 59% for mitigation technologies. However, the overall African share of inventive activity in CCMT is still low at 0,24%, and 84% of this is in South Africa.
In the field of adaptation technologies, the African share in worldwide inventive activity is very low (0,26%), but the level of patent protection sought in African countries is increasing rapidly at an average of 17% p.a. over this period. CCMT in particular is developed through international research collaboration; 23% for African CCMT, compared to 12% worldwide. While there is little intra-African co-invention, Africa's most frequent partners are US, UK, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, France and Canada. Overall, inventive activity and patenting is dominated by South Africa, which appears to play a leading role in in co-invention, and in technology transfer of CCMT to Africa.
Although many relevant clean energy technologies already exist, they are not yet widely available in Africa for a range of reasons, including high costs. The development of the Technology Mechanism by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has focused attention on technology transfer as the key to approaching CETs in the climate change debate.
Various countries have also developed science and technology (S&T) or science, technology and innovation (STI) policies, as well as national programmes or white papers, which all place considerable emphasis on the transfer and diffusion of technology and explicitly include the energy sector.
Patents have an important role to play in technology transfer. As the previous report on patenting and climate change mitigation technology from EPO, UNEP and ICTSD showed, the main factors impeding technology transfer are access to the real know-how from the source companies (including access to trade secrets), access to suitably skilled staff, scientific infrastructure, and favourable market conditions.
The patent system can therefore support technology transfer as without patents to protect their products and processes, the source companies may be reluctant to engage in technology transfer and associated investments.
All African states except Somalia now have a patent system, and all states except for Somalia and Eritrea comply or will eventually be obliged to comply to the requirements of the TRIPS agreement as members of the WTO. This report helps to understand how the global and African patent systems can best be used and further developed to support and facilitate the technology transfer of CETs in Africa.
To foster innovation and growth, one of the big challenges for all patent offices across the world, including African states, is to establish or maintain a high quality patent system to discourage low quality patents, ensuring that exclusive rights for CET are only granted for valid technical inventions. As an example, only approximately 50% of patent applications lead to a grant at the EPO, and the scope of protection of those granted is mostly reduced during the examination process.
High quality patents offering maximum legal security, and protecting the interests of both inventors and the public, are the cornerstone of a properly functioning patent system. They provide the optimum balance between private and public interests, disseminating technical information widely, while limiting granted exclusive rights to valid inventions. The patent system makes a wealth of technical information readily available worldwide, free of charge via the internet.
With less than 1% of patent applications relating to clean energy technology filed in Africa, patent rights are unlikely to be a major consideration in any decision to exploit CETs in the region. Longer term, all countries should investigate the possibilities around the development of a high quality patent system and facilitate effective cross-patenting to encourage both co-invention activities as well as technology transfer of more recent CET developments. The relationship between the patent system and successful technology transfer to regions such as Africa also needs to be further researched to inform and guide future policies towards development of clean energy technology for future African needs and purposes.
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