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Opinion: As solar energy goes global, we must consider relaxing intellectual property rights


Opinion: As solar energy goes global, we must consider relaxing intellectual property rights

Author: Alexandra Partin Dujon
|September 25, 2023

Man in hard hat squatting in solar panel field

A solar power project in Thailand. photo: Asian Development Bank

The solar revolution is well underway.The share of solar energy in the global energy mix has almost tripled Over the past five years, solar panel technology has become increasingly affordable, with utility-scale costs falling factors of five America during the same period.Solar energy is More and more efficient.Public and private investment are influx.

However, while solar panels are helping the E.U. Exceed your own decarbonization targetsand the Biden administration has adopted Inflation reduction methodlow- and middle-income countries – those least responsible for historical emissions – are being left behind.

Global disparities in solar power generation reflect insufficient access to solar technology and inadequate institutional preparedness for it. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), rare Developing countries have the skills, R&D, industrial capacity or financial capacity required to harness solar energy. These obstacles, in turn, stem from economic difficulties, insufficient domestic attention to renewable energy, and an unfavorable international trading system.

Members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), some of the most prosperous countries in the world, face fewer obstacles. More than half World solar electricity production, although only includes 17% global population.made in China another third. This means that other countries (representing the majority of the global population) produce only about one-sixth of total solar photovoltaic electricity.

How do we globalize the solar revolution in a way that is socially just and economically sound?Among the many solutions, UNCTAD Suggested A strategy called “technology transfer” aims to eliminate inequalities in international solar power generation.

Broadly speaking, “technology transfer” refers to the transfer of technological capabilities from one country to another, whether through public or private means. Technology transfer can include hardware (parts) or software (design); maintenance-level knowledge (“know-how”) or in-depth analytical-level knowledge (“know-why”). All of these are essential for production, but only design and “knowing why” will allow the local solar industry to innovate and succeed.

The 2015 Paris Agreement and the 2022 COP27 Climate Conference encourage Technology transfer to facilitate wider participation in the global green economic transition.In addition, a analyze Thirty years of research confirms that technology transfer measures for renewable energy are increasingly successful. Clearly, this strategy can find favor and favor. But not all technology transfer levers are created equal. These levers can be divided into “temporary” and “systematic”.

Ad hoc technology transfer, or the introduction of technology into new environments on a case-by-case basis, is inconsistent and haphazard. It relies on promotion from external entities, whether companies or governments. Their willingness to participate depends on a combination of altruism, geopolitical and economic factors. When times get tough, or when developing countries have little strategic value, these countries are less likely to acquire important cutting-edge technologies.

In contrast, systemic reforms, such as adjusting intellectual property rights protection in international trade, could change the technology transfer game in key ways to promote the development of domestic solar industries in developing countries. The second strategy does not rely on temporary goodwill.

Relaxing intellectual property rights is a hot topic. The main counterargument is that undermining these rights stifles innovation by making returns on investment less predictable.In addition, some developed countries have formulated debate Intellectual property rights protection alone does not make green technology expensive. They argue that if companies price based on cost, then manufacturing, not intellectual property, should be the factor that makes technology expensive. Of course, this argument doesn’t take into account the role of competition in pricing, or how patents pave the way for companies to charge higher fees.

The World Trade Organization (WTO), the world’s top intergovernmental trade rule-maker, accepted the rebuttal, arguing that intellectual property protection is key to promoting innovation to tackle climate problems. As a result, the organization does not provide developing countries with much flexibility to adopt looser rules.

However, the WTO’s rigid approach conflicts with the spirit of its own regulations. One of the organization’s most basic agreements is called Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). This includes provisions to facilitate technology transfer, such as relaxing intellectual property rights protections. Specifically, TRIPS allow The government relaxes patent rights under certain conditions.Developing countries such as Ecuador, Cuba, Brazil, Chile and El Salvador As early as April 2013, the United States attempted to establish and revise the intellectual property rights flexibility in TRIPS to expand the scope of access to green technology.However, developed countries such as the United States, Canada, Switzerland, and EU member states have respond with disdain. In 2023, UNCTAD found “Not too possible” Intellectual property rights protection will be less stringent at the global level, which means TRIPS is unlikely to be very flexible.

The opposition of developed country members of the WTO also goes against historical trends.Copy or imitate existing technology historical place How developing countries can catch up economically with developed countries. Many now developed countries initially allowed foreigners to patent their inventions. Switzerland is also among the dissidents, There is not even a patent law until the beginning of the 20th century.

at last, empirical evidence Showing that technology transfer measures often ignore developing countries with high innovation capabilities, suggestion These measures avoid countries that threaten commercial competitive advantage. In addition, technology transfer mainly focuses on transferring goods and some skills (hardware and know-how), and pays less attention to knowledge and capabilities (software and know-how). In this sense, technology transfer is less empowering for developing countries and more conducive to creating economic dependence.

Innovation is not enough to bring solar energy to developing countries. Access and local capabilities are also important. Intellectual property rights protections implemented by the WTO are touted as good for innovation, but may actually be detrimental to capacity building, thereby undermining development and decarbonization goals.

To enhance solar innovation in developing countries and assist development and promote decarbonization, the WTO must consider relaxing intellectual property rules.

Alejandra Padín Dujon is a first-year PhD student. PhD Candidate in Sustainability at Columbia University.




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