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USPTO speeds green innovations to market
Tuesday, 15 December 2009 22:20

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has announced that it will pilot a scheme to fast track patents for green technologies, preparing them for quicker market entry. Coinciding with the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, the announcement echoes similar plans revealed recently by IP Australia.

At the scheme's launch in Washington, USPTO director David Kappos stressed the need to promote the development of green technologies and assist their distribution. 'Every day an important green tech innovation is hindered from coming to market is another day we harm our planet and another day lost in creating green businesses and green jobs,' he said. 'Applications in this pilot programme will see significant savings in pendency, which will help bring green innovations to market more quickly.'

US commerce secretary Gary Locke welcomed the plan to fast track green tech patents. 'American competitiveness depends on innovation,' he said, 'and innovation depends on creative Americans developing new technology.' By ensuring that new green products will receive earlier patent protection, he added, the scheme would boost investment in the necessary resources and stimulate new innovation.

Under the plan, 3,000 pending patent applications will be advanced on to the fast track, with a view to advancing more if the initial wave is successful. Applications will be selected on the strength of their subject matter, which must provide for environmental quality, energy conservation, renewable energy or reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The programme's aim is to reduce the pendency of these patents by 12 months from the current average of 30 to 40 months. Innovators whose applications are chosen will be asked for their feedback, which will be assessed in order to determine the fast-track scheme's future.

The USPTO's initiative has widened IP's role in the green debate. In September, IP Australia announced its own fast-track plan for clean-tech patents to spur investment in green R&D. Australia's innovation and industry secretary, Richard Marles, said that the scheme 'will provide speedy access to Australia's strong intellectual property system and help businesses protect their valuable assets' throughout the nation's efforts to manage climate change.

In October, the Eco-Patent Commons programme – housed at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) – announced that Dow Chemical and Fuji Xerox were the latest firms to pledge green patents to the public domain. The Dow and Fuji offerings have added to the programme's roster of green IP that is licensed, at no charge, to whoever wishes to use it. And, as IP Review Online recently reported, the European Patent Office (EPO) is preparing to reveal preliminary findings of a United Nations-backed study into clean technologies at the Copenhagen conference.

Meanwhile, GE (formerly known as General Electric) has positioned clean technologies as a key part of its output through its Ecomagination programme and its involvement with the Smart Grid initiative – a drive by several technology firms to renovate US power networks into cleaner models. GE's chief IP counsel, Carl Horton, welcomed the US fast-track plan. 'We hail this initiative as an excellent incentive to fuel further innovation of clean technology,' he said, adding that the scheme was 'a terrific mechanism to speed the dissemination of these patented technologies throughout the world'.

 

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