Originally posted by @karin_shepardson  here


PhotoforIPblog2015JonHiggins.jpg Photo credit: Jon M. Higgins


What do intellectual property rights (IPR) have to do with protecting the ozone layer or, for that matter, climate change?

The Bank’s Montreal Protocol Program has been actively engaged in learning the basics of IPR and how patent processes work to help address one of the roadblocks to the adoption of an international agreement to phasedown hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), potent greenhouse gases used in air conditioning and refrigeration equipment.

At the Montreal Protocol Meeting of the Parties, held recently in Dubai, the Bank’s team hosted a side event, ‘HFO Intellectual Property: Challenges and Opportunities’, that was attended by government representatives and producers of fluoro chemicals from both developed and developing countries, a discrete group of representatives that all fit easily in one room. The issue at hand centers on a new and significantly less climate damaging family of compounds called hydrofluoro-olefins (HFOs) that are heralded as a sustainable alternative technology that can help significantly lower global HFC consumption. The side event was organized to broker a space in which the practical implications, and limitations, for deploying state of the art HFO technologies in a timely and cost effective way across a globally inter-connected world could be discussed.

The Basic's We've Learned

A patent is, in a sense, an inventor’s public disclosure of their ‘recipe’ to the world in exchange for certain legal protection on an exclusive right of use for a limited time (usually 20 years).  Patent filers must prove the uniqueness of their invention, choose where to file a patent, and be ready to actively “practice” the art, or science, of their invention, or risk losing it.  New inventions usually get patented and HFOs are no exception. Patents are key instruments to help spur competition and technological innovation, and well established international patent agreements and procedures to help standardize practices and rules existThe patents landscape tends to be defined by the market. Over the past decade, the rate, complexity, and density of patent filings globally has been on the rise, especially in the United States and China and the HFO patent landscape reflects this same trend.

How has the World Bank come to be brokering a dialogue with well-known global chemical companies on such potentially sensitive issues? For one, the Bank has established a legacy in this sector. The Bank's Montreal Protocol Program has long led the Protocol's work to assist developing country chemical producers and their governments in converting or closing their production capacity of internationally regulated (and ultimately banned) chemicals. Our production sector work has been some of the most impactful under the Montreal Protocol, having phased out more than 300,000 tonnes ODP over 25 years by working with chemical producers in Argentina, China, India, Russia, the Ukraine and Venezuela.

Secondly, it is about trust. A key aspect of the Bank's work in this sector centers on ensuring an independent 'technical audit' process through on-site records' inspections and, annually, cross-checking grant recipient enterprises' achievements against commitments for permanent changes away from globally banned chemical production. Such third party audits serve to assure the Executive Committee of the Protocol's financial mechanism of verified production phase-down progress, a process that is underpinned by the Bank team's availability to clarify issues and respond to queries. All Parties involved rely heavily on the integrity of the Bank's work in this process, which is driven by a focused specificity to the technical issues in question, and impartiality with regard to both the commercial and political interests that are inevitably at play. This has allowed the team to build up a critically important trust-based reputation as an honest broker that has the capacity to provide both technical depth and the global knowledge and diplomacy to navigate the political and commercial landscapes.

This reputation and skills have now been recognized as critical to advancing the patent and IPR discussion, a key issue on which developing countries seek greater clarity on before determining what timeline for technologically feasible phase down of HFCs they can commit to. The Dubai IPR side event was a first step in the process, though much of the Bank's work will continue bilaterally and behind closed doors given legal restrictions most parties face regarding information exchange.

As a first step however, the Dubai event served to boost a wider understanding on common language around patents and highlighted the Protocol's earlier experience in paying for patent licenses for other chemical transitions. Preliminary results of the HFO landscape based on public patent data searches were presented, as was feedback from a recent consultation on HFOs with Chinese chemical industry. In addition, some economic models were presented to stimulate further thinking on incentives and drivers of commercial behavior for both owners and users of potential intellectual property.

Ultimately the issue of IPR and HFOs is a matter that the private sector will work out on its own. Nevertheless, the World Bank's expertise in engaging with chemical producers globally places us in a unique position as an experienced and impartial party able to help broker discussion forward on the issue. Part of the role necessarily involves helping advocate for developing country perspectives, but in tandem it alsoallows us to bring patent holding industry players to the table and encourage them to think a bit more out of the box. It's a move that gives recognition that business as usual approaches ultimatelymight lead everyone down a lose-lose path littered with delayed decision making, higher impacts to the environment, greater safety risk/cost tradeoffs made by developing countries, and loss of growth markets for patent holders.

We have come to believe that there are win-win approaches not yet well explored that can benefit both our planet and developed and developing country commercial interests. We cannot guarantee success, but our unique platform as the World Bank MP team allows us to help make sure higher level global issues, like climate change, remain a critical part of the equation.