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Intellectual property rights and green technologies from Rio to Rio: an impossible dialogue?

Why were participant countries in the Rio+20 conferences (2012) not able to find any common ground on the role of intellectual property rights (IPRs) as they sought to identify a path for achieving “green economy” in the decades ahead? The current policy brief seeks to answer this question by examining the evolution of the global debate on IPRs and green technologies from the Earth Summit in 1992 to Rio+20.

The document indicates that:

  • the critical importance of IPRs as the “global currency” of innovation has significantly increased, and the number of IPRs applications worldwide has exploded, particularly in the area of patents
  • on the other hand, IPRs are considered as possible barriers for the transfer and wider diffusion of green technologies and to ‘affordable’ access to them
  • in the Rio+20 preparatory process, many countries put forward proposals on IPRs in their submissions, but a stalemate has emerged due to the dramatically opposed viewpoints

The paper states that this stalemate is not necessarily a fatality, but evading the issue is also not the solution. It concludes:

  • clear and TRIPS-based parameters are needed to foster a more constructive and pragmatic dialogue about IPRs, aiming at enhancing the diffusion of green technologies
  • the parameters are to be drawn from the premise that there are indeed important differences between the public health and clean energy discussions (I.e. patent ownership is relatively less important in terms of clean energy)
  • certainly, an examination of the role of IPRs in relation to diffusion of green technologies needs to be conducted on a case-by-case basis and in light of specific evidence
  • overall, IPRs should be seen in a broader context of appropriate policies, adequate institutions and human resources to both encourage green innovation and to ensure that its benefits are widely diffused