Giving Sustainable Innovation the Green Light

Many will have seen the recent satellite images highlighting the significant reduction in global air pollution since the shutting down of industrial activity by the coronavirus pandemic. As the skies temporarily clear, the impact of industry and human activity on the planet has once again been brought into focus. The need for a sustainable future is clear.

Innovation plays a fundamental role in the drive towards global sustainable development and a circular economy with low environmental impact. But, are there any IP provisions that support this crucial green innovation? And is there anything that can be done whilst the majority of workplace lockdown measures remain in place?

Green Technology

Governments and companies all over the world are both promoting and investing in ‘Green Innovation’, striving to create economic growth around the technologies that provide beneficial effects to the environment. Also known as ‘Clean Technology’, such green innovations are designed to reduce pollution, encourage efficient energy generation, reduce or even eliminate the production of hazardous waste substances and increase usage of alternative fuels in order to have the smallest possible impact on the planet’s diminishing non-renewable resources. Recent developments in the field of green technology have been dynamic, with a number of progressive innovations providing wide reaching engagement with green chemistry and sustainability.

In the chemical field, innovation has focused on addressing unresolved environmental problems such as those associated with energy generation, clean water and sanitisation, and food production. New biodegradable materials, fertilizer alternatives and rechargeable batteries for clean power production are only some of the many innovative solutions that have been brought to market.

Protecting Your Intellectual Property

With businesses focusing on finding sustainable environmental solutions, there are increasing opportunities for the growth and development of green innovation. Governments, companies and investors alike are looking to invest in the future of this growing market sector. Consequently, the value of obtaining a granted patent for such innovations should certainly not be overlooked. A granted patent enables its proprietor to prevent competitors from utilising or copying new innovations and furthermore, may be a requirement for securing investment necessary to establish a foothold in this expanding market or facilitate a licensing agreement to meet growing demands. Such commercial opportunities can be lost as a result of delay during the prosecution of patent applications.

The Green Channel

Fortunately, the UK Government recognises the need for speedy implementation of green technology and the UK Intellectual Property Office permits accelerated prosecution of patent applications directed towards green innovations via a ‘Green Channel’ program. The Green channel program, now in its eleventh year, significantly reduces the average time for an applicant to obtain a granted patent from around 4 years to 9 months, enabling applicants to keep pace with changing market conditions. Furthermore, the program can be utilised at different stages of prosecution, leading to advantages not just in the procurement of an accelerated grant, but also in obtaining accelerated search results in order to identify relevant prior art and enable formulation of an appropriate IP strategy at a very early stage.

To be considered for accelerated prosecution via the Green Channel program, an applicant must file a written request outlining how their application is environmentally-friendly and additionally, the actions at the UK IPO that they wish to be accelerated: search, examination, combined search and examination and/or publication. The UK IPO states that the program is “available to patent applicants who make reasonable assertion that the invention has some environmental benefit” and further acknowledges that “inventions which have an environmental benefit can arise in any area of technology”. Moreover, the UK IPO’s Green Channel does not require innovations to comply with any specific environmental standards and thus may be deemed to provide relatively low barriers for interested participants.

The Story So Far

Since the launch of the Green Channel initiative in 2009, the UK IPO has maintained a public database of all of the patent applications and granted patents accelerated using the program. A brief review of this database, now listing 2381 published patent applications and granted patents, demonstrates the diverse nature of innovations qualifying for Green Channel acceleration. For example, the database includes innovations ranging from diesel oxidation catalysts and exhaust systems, to unmanned aerial vehicles, methods of bleaching hair and adjustable bicycle frames. The range of eligible technologies for Green Channel participation is perhaps wider than immediately apparent.

International Recognition

The UK IPO has been a driving force in the development and implementation of green innovation through accelerated prosecution in the patent world. Statistics released by the UK IPO in 2018 disclosed that 382 requests for accelerated prosecution had been received in 2017, the largest number since the initiative was launched. Furthermore, the UK IPO’s Green Channel initiative has motivated patent offices worldwide to offer similar fast-track programs for environmentally-friendly applications, including the patent offices of Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the US, Canada, Brazil and China. Specific eligibility requirements vary between jurisdictions, with the average time to grant cut by between 42% and 75% across the different patent offices.

Don’t Miss a Trick

Although the recent lockdown may have kept many chemical innovators from the lab, the value in progressing existing IP rights certainly hasn’t diminished. Such acceleration can still be applied for during lockdown, and looking to the future, securing a quick grant can form part of a coherent IP strategy to attract interest and investment to a business.

It is clear that the UK IPO’s Green Channel provides a practical option for applicants seeking to develop and market innovative green technology, adding significant value to businesses flourishing in this quickly expanding market sector. However, despite the effectiveness of the Green Chanel initiative in accelerating patent prosecution in the UK, only a fraction of total patent applications filed in recent years have requested prosecution under the program. Hopefully this is only set to rise as the demand for sustainable innovation increases.

The UK IPO’s Green Channel continues to encourage crucial future green innovation and sustainable development.

If you would like to discuss any of the material covered in the above article, please contact Philippa at Philippa.Makepeace@gje.com

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