Climate Change, Technology Transfer and Intellectual Property Rights

K.Ravi Srinivas
JEL codes: 
RIS-DP # 153

Technology development and transfer has been identified as a key element in the Bali Action Plan. In the negotiations on a global climate treaty the developing nations have put forth ideas and plans to ensure that intellectual property rights (IPRs) do not become a barrier to transfer of climate friendly technology. In this discussion paper, this question of technology transfer, intellectual property rights is addressed in the context of climate change. Patent statistics shows the dominance of developed countries in specific technologies. The analysis on specific technologies indicates that IPRs is an important issue in development and transfer of technology and it is a barrier. Data indicates that although developing countries have made some progress, the dominance of developed countries in terms of patents, royalty and licensing income and expenditure on Research and Development remains as before. The historical experience is that stronger IPRs do not always result in more technology transfer and technology absorption. Hence the argument that developing countries should provide stronger protection of IPRs to encourage technology transfer has to be challenged. The technology transfer under UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol has been minimal and insufficient to meet the needs of developing countries. The harmonization of IPRs through TRIPS has limited the options of countries to use compulsory licensing and competition policy. TRIPS has not facilitated technology transfer, particularly to Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and the North-South divide on this issue has resulted in a stalemate. Under these circumstances it is futile to expect that TRIPS alone will result in more transfer of climate-friendly technologies. Using Common But Differentiated Responsibility principle in technology development and transfer is desirable. Many proposals and suggestions have been made to stimulate technology development and transfer. Montreal Protocol is a successful example that is relevant in the context of climate change. The proposals including the proposals made by developing countries deserve a serious consideration and innovative solutions have to be found. Humanity does not has the luxury of finding solutions over a century to solve problems created by global climate change. Developing countries need both development and access to technologies that will facilitate the transition to less carbon intensive economy within the next two or three decades. So it is essential that IP issues do not become a barrier in this transition. The challenge of climate change calls for out of the box thinking to find solutions that can make a difference. The IPR issues in technology transfer need to be tackled by a combination of policy measures, incentives and bringing in changes at the global IP regime under TRIPS.