Cleantech IP Thoughts

Last week a stream of cleantech related events emerged onto my radar is several ways. First, Bruce Abramson simply but profoundly commented on Facebook that he

“just realized that of all the activities he has ever undertaken, the one whose consequences contributed most to his carbon footprint was probably protesting against nuclear energy and nuclear research in the 1980s.”

He has a good point. It's time to revisit the risks and benefits of nuclear technology and how it fits in to current Cleantech thinking.

Last Tuesday the USPTO announced granting an experimental program on accelerated examination of applications cleantech patents. They aren’t the first as the Korean Patent Office announced accelerated cleantech patent examinations within 30 days.

As a result, I was interviewed by the Environment Report of Michigan Public Radio to comment on the impacts of this policy. In response to the question of whether or not this would spur innovation, I suspect that I disappointed by saying that I did not think that accelerated examination this would not have this effect. What does spur innovation in this area is R&D funding. However one beneficiary of the PTO policy would be startups and small companies – those for whom some patents in the quiver may help on the valuation and funding side for the company.

Much of cleantech patenting is done by large entities and that there are large research and development demands. For entities such as Ford Motor, Midwest Research Institute or International Fuel Cells as examples, getting the patent faster doesn’t get innovation done faster.

In the Federal Register notice the PTO acknowledged the difficulty of identifying what is exactly a cleantech patent. This notice enumerated over 60 patent classes/subclass combinations that may harbor cleantech innovations eligible for accelerted review. Unfortunately it’s more difficult than that: my tracking of eco/green technologies reveals eco related patenting in over 5000 unique class/subclass combinations.

Asked how this would affect me in 2010, I offered that there are many eco patents that could be classified as business methods and this is probably how I’d be drawn in.
In other news The Harvard Club of San Francisco hosting a panel on January 21, 2010 entitled “Is Nuclear Power Green Power? Small Modular Reactors and the New Nuclear Era”, sponsored by Alston & Bird. With Bruce Abramson’s comment fresh in my mind I turned to California High Speed Rail. It is not clear how and where the required power infrastructure for HSR appears. (In France, it’s nuclear power.)

All of the foregoing leads me to ask the following question: ignoring accident risks for now, would it be possible to propel high speed rail with modular reactors as the train engine, as in submarines?

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