Survey of Eco / Green Intellectual Property

With increased interest in global warming, green building and ecologically friendly behaviors, I initially observed that there was fairly little chatter concerning intellectual property aspects. This prompted me to examine the extent that IP issues that consume us in other technologies, like the Internet or e-commerce are also affecting progress in the ‘green’ world. Unlike the debate over ‘software patents’, I wasn’t hearing the similar criticisms that IP protection in green technology was inhibiting innovation.

Indeed a very visible IP effect of ‘green’ is in trademarks. One study shows that the number of trademarks incorporating the word ‘green’ increased from 1,100 in 2006 to 2,400 in 2007. (Growth in trademarks

What is an Eco or ‘Green’ patent?

An immediate problem is recognizing just what is an ‘eco’ patent? Eco patents are a genre of patents, lacking a unique definitive patent classification that enables their easy identification. Green technology comes from many technical disciplines and industries, such as batteries and waste treatment. It transcends many US patent classifications. One attempt to categorize eco patents is based on the International Patent Classifications , however these have the drawback that one must then individually consider each patent for it’s relevance to eliminate false positives.

This identification problem isn’t unique, as there are other genres of patents, such as ‘software patents’, where the expression is frequently used to describe that genre, but still lacks definition and classification in traditional systems. One solution is to establish an additional classification system, or patent class for ‘social impact’ (for lack of a better term) to represent societal, or problem solving, role of the invention in understanding in addition to the technical view. Possible categories could be software, eco, healthcare, or financial.

The approach taken here is identifying eco patents through a representative a vocabulary (aka, taxonomy) of key phrases such as ‘solar cell’ and ‘cellulosic biomass.’ About 12,300 patents are thus identified and categorized. This is a useful start viewing characteristics of eco patents and litigation.

The charts above profile the 12300 patents of the Eco dataset according to frequency of USPTO classification. The Industry chart summarizes the technical classes by the according to the 14 industry categories enumerated by Hall and Lemley. The mapping of USPTO class to industry is based on data provided by IPriori.

Eco Green industries are not immune from assertion of IP rights, although thus far it consumes less of an effort as a percentage of issued patents. If, in general, 1.0 % of issued patents are subject to litigation, the percentage of 12,300 ‘green’ patents in the dataset in litigation is far less: 26 of the 12,300 are so identified (0.2%).

About 300 of those patents are in software-related classes 700-705, including business methods, such as 7,133,750 issued to Fannie Mae for "System and method for residential emissions trading"; and 6,975,925, issued to Windlynx Systems, B.V. titled "Forecasting an energy output of a wind farm".

A more detailed report is available on request.

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