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PATENTS IN ENERGY SECTOR: SPECIAL EMPHASIS ON SUSTAINABLE RESOURCES

Author: Aditi Arora, III year of B.B.A.,LL.B. from Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies


Abstract

The paper outlines the importance of developing sustainable energy technologies and securing patent protection for preventing the depletion of all the non-renewable natural resources on our planet. Initially the paper stresses upon the highly imperative promotion of innovation in the energy sector to foster better utilisation of solar, wind, hydro, tidal and other renewables available abundantly on the planet.


Then it explains briefly, the different types of renewable energy resources that can be exploited endlessly without the fear of depletion. The paper tries to motivate the innovators to come up with novel technologies to utilise renewable resources for an environment alternative by providing the latest examples of inventions in different sectors of sustainable growth.


It further proceeds to highlight the role of patents in analysing and forecasting the growth of innovation in the energy sector and simultaneously boosting innovations. Then with the help of statistics, the trends in sustainable energy patents is analysed and thereafter compared with the all-over patent database over the past decade.


The paper makes an effort to provide a fair picture of the current scenario of the green patents filing worldwide and thereby indicating the steps taken towards promoting sustainable energy. It then classifies the patentable innovations involving renewable energy into three broad categories of technologies in: mature market stage, trending in the market and venture stage.


Further, it goes on to clarify the Indian stance on renewable energy innovations and initiatives taken up by the Indian government to accelerate growth in the said field followed by challenges to sustainable development and patenting. To conclude, the paper discusses the impact of the regulation policies and movements to encourage green patents and therefore sustainable energy innovations to urge global sustainable growth.


Introduction

As Tim Wirth once said, “Energy is essential for development and sustainable energy is essential for sustainable development”, we realise that with the planet on the verge of depleting all its natural resources in the urge of generating power, it is the need of the hour to look for alternative sustainable technologies. According to the extrapolated projections of 2017 by IEA it is estimated that by the end of 2040, the world will require up to 30% more energy as compared to today’s consumption. To gain a better understanding on sustainable development in the energy sector, it is imperative for the following generation to become aware of the different types of renewable energy resources and their corresponding technological developments to take up the baton. Innovation is the only way to tackle the pressing need. It is also imperative to track the innovations to update and encourage upcoming professionals. The most prominent methodology to analyse the growth of sustainable developments in the energy sector is to observe the patent trends over the years which indicates the amount of innovations taking place in the desired sector. Databases such as the IPC green inventory keep a record of the patent information regarding the Environmentally Sound Technologies (ESTs) as listed by UNFCCC. Analysing the data collected from all these National and International Inventories can provide a fair picture of the global scenario in this direction.


Especially in India, the future prosperity depends on the achievability of affordable and clean energy fuels and it would take an even longer time now after restoring the disruptions caused by Covid-19 pandemic. Although prior to the worldwide pandemic, India’s energy demand was projected to increase by 50% between 2019 and 2030, but instead it is now around 35%, but due to the economic downfall, the Indian households are falling back to more polluting and lesser efficient fuels and it has also hampered the growth rate of innovations and green patents.


Role of Patents in Innovation

Patents provide a yard-stick to measure innovations and standards for the deployment of renewable energy technologies for the stakeholders by playing the following roles:-

· Incentivization: Patent registration fairly remunerate the inventors by giving them exclusive rights to use, distribute, licence and raise profits to compensate their efforts and costs incurred in the innovating process for a limited period of time i.e. twenty years after the date of patent application filing. Patents simply grant sole ownership and enjoyment rights which facilitates monopoly to cover the investment and labour for a stipulated time frame.


· Increases knowledge base: Publication of an invention for patent allows the general public to obtain new technology and inspirations to innovate further while avoiding reinventing similar innovations.


· Attracts Investors: Registered patents are easier to transfer and licence and facilitates a smoother flow of business. It helps in attracting investors by acting as a strong intangible asset


· Encourages Innovation: it inspires present and future specialists to innovate more by offering lucrative benefits of patent protection


· Analysing and Forecasting Growth Trends in Each Sector: Patents act as a measure of research output, containing information on the development of new technologies. It indicates individual growth in each sector respectively and gives a fair idea of the fields that lack innovations and therefore has a scope for technological development!


· Foundation for other innovations: Other than public declaration of technical know-how, the off-patent technologies act as a foundation for developing new and upcoming inventions which are modified and enhanced with the help of recent advancements and suitably adapting them to local conditions.


Patent documents provide insights on state-of-the-art technological information, legal and business information, latest trends in innovation and a guidance to policy makers and inverstors to make an informed decision. In addition to the public declaration of the patent information, the databases also provide various tools for retrieval of relevant search results for researchers


Major Renewable Energy Resources and Sustainable Innovations

1. Solar Energy: Sunlight is one of the most abundant resources on earth. It is a cleaner, affordable and inexhaustible form of energy which provides greater returns on investment, with solar panels being easy to set-up and provides a much better and cheaper alternative to household electricity. At present, solar energy is growing at the rate of 13.6%. In India, over the recent 5 years, solar power capacity has accelerated at an average rate of around 60%.

Latest inventions in generating solar energy and its utilisation include:-


2. Wind Energy: With wind turbines being a common sighting on farms and ranches, the benefits of generating power through the cost effective technologies regarding wind energy are becoming more evident.Wind energy technologies are growing at the rate of 16.7% each year whereas the Indian growth rate in wind power generation caopacity has increased around 10%.

Innovations in wind energy sector include:-

3. Hydro Energy: Hydroelectricity is amongst the most cost effective and commercially developed sources of energy and generated mostly by building damsand water reservoirs. However, many countries including India are over dependent on hydropower for their meeting their consumption, According to the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), it is estimated that India must generate at least 83% of its electricity from non-hydropower renewable energy sources to reach net-zero in carbon emmisions by 2050.

Innovations in Hydro Energy sector includes:-


4. Geothermal Energy: It involves a process of generating energy by tapping the underground heat. It is prominently used for bathing and home heating appliances. The global geothermal electricity market is expected to grow to $6.06 billion by the end of 2022 at a growth rate of 9.6% from last year.

Innovations in Geothermal Energy includes:-



Sustainable Energy Patents from the IPC Green Inventory:-

​Category

​Topic

​Alternative Energy Production

​· Bio-fuels

· Integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC)

· Fuel cells

· Pyrolysis or gasification of biomass

· Harnessing energy from manmade waste

· Ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC)

· Other production or use of heat, not derived from combustion, e.g. natural heat

· Using waste heat

· Devices for producing mechanical power from muscle energy

​Transportation

​· Vehicles in general (e.g. hybrid vehicles, electric propulsion)

· Vehicles other than rail vehicles

· Rail vehicles

· Marine vessel propulsion

· Cosmonautic vehicles using solar energy

​Energy conservation

​· Storage of electrical energy

· Power supply circuitry

· Measurement of electricity consumption

· Storage of thermal energy

· Low energy lighting

· Thermal building insulation, in general

· Recovering mechanical energy

​Waste Management

​· Waste disposal

· Treatment of waste

· Reusing waste materials

· Pollution control

​Nuclear power generation

​· Nuclear engineering (e.g. Fusion reactors, nuclear fission reactors, nuclear power plants)

· Gas turbine power plants using heat source of nuclear origin

Trends in sustainable energy patents

Green energy patents have observed exponential growth up till 2013 followed by a period of deceleration and the minor decline in green energy technology innovation. However patents in energy conservation technology and green transportation technology have shown a constant and steady pace. The investment in renewable energy technologies is now more than ever before which is evident from the proliferation of wind turbines and solar cells spread across the landscape. According to a 2019 report on Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment it was claimed that 26.3% of the total electricity produced around the globe is renewable energy with a total of USD 2.6 trillion investment in the past decade! Although the investment statistics do not provide the accurate measurement of the growth in this sector due to the gradual cost reduction of solar and wind power plants installation which is also a positive indicator.


Over 60% of all the green energy patents around the world are highly concentrated in only four countries that are: (Japan, U.S., Germany and China)[i]. The growth rate of green patent filings in the energy sector in China has increased extraordinarily since the past decade, making it the second highest with regards to green energy patent families. However majority of the extraordinary growth in green patents have been filed at the home country i.e. China and not internationally under PCT. On the contrary, the leading inventors of green energy technologies, Japan and United States have experienced a fall in the number of green patents since 2011.


India has also shown a shift from the conventional resources of energy to renewable resources to support the trend of sustainable development. Photovoltaic has been the topmost technology to secure almost 6000 patents in India as compared to 10000 other patent applications registered in different domains relating to renewable energy, such as: wind energy, conversion process of hydrostatic pressure into electrical energy, hydro wind electric power generation system and solar thermal appliances for domestic applicability etc.


In the 2018 edition of the Global Innovation Index, themed as ‘Energizing the World with Innovation’ it was stated that a much higher level of innovation is required in the energy supply side as compared to the demand side. In other words, the inclination towards alternative sustainable energy resources requires greater level of technological advancements as compared to smart cities, efficient transportation and mobility and optimization of energy systems which includes establishing smart grids and novel, advanced technologies for storing energy.


Source: Commerce and Industry Ministry


The data depicts that on an average almost half of the total registered patents in India are green energy patents concerning waste management, alternative energy production, transportation technologies and energy conservation etc.


Classification of patentable innovations involving renewable energy

It is essential to bifurcate the inventions and the corresponding patents into separate categories to better understand their evolution, market share, scope of development and area-specific requirement. Thus there are three broad categories of patentable technologies on the basis of their status of growth in the market:-

1. Technologies in Mature market stage: This category includes the innovations that are introduced in an existing mature market and there are many patents already registered in that field. Hence the new patent applications have to be cautiously registered so as to not infringe any existing patents. For example solar, wind and tidal energy technologies, hybrid vehicles etc. fall under mature and developed market stage.


2. Technologies trending in the market: The technologies that have just entered the market and are therefore popular and trending comes under this stage. The commercial viability and future success can be analysed through the inventions in their trending stage. These renewable technologies include smart grids, biofuels and ethanol based fuels


3. Technologies at the venture stage: At the venture stage technologies are mostly undergoing the research or planning step in order to enter the commercial market. These technology substantially have an untapped potential. They are freshly introduced and have endless opportunities for new inventions and innovations. Renewable energy such as wireless power transmission and nano-materials are few examples of technologies in their venture stage.


India’s Position in Promoting Sustainable Development

India, being a developing nation, constantly undergoing industrialisation and organisation which generates of humungous demand for energy. However the per capita demand of energy is still lesser than half of the global average with wide variations across the states and between metropolitan cities and rural areas. The reliability of energy supply and its affordability remains one of the primary concerns for India's consumers. In a research report published by WIPO[i], India is the largest contribution to energy demand growth, amounting up to 30%. Thus switching to sustainable alternatives and promoting innovations in the renewable energy sector is crucial for the country. India, being an environmentally committed nation, is constantly taking up initiatives to foster and support the global goals (SDGs) introduced by United Nations. NITI Ayog has recently released a report on Renewables Integration in India, 2021 in collaboration with the Indian Economic Service (IES). The report focusses on suggesting methods for maximising the production and value of solar and wind power in its electricity system. Other than this, the report also brings forth a few distinctive regulatory policies for incentivizing renewable energy resources and facilitating their accommodation into the energy system with greater ease and flexibility.


India has a flourishing industry in Low-Carbon Environmental Goods and Services (LCEGS). The reports on LCEGS play an important role of fulfilling the gap due to the lack of an accepted classification system and statistical base for the measurement of environmental and low-carbon focussed activities within the country. It is also an initiative towards achieving the challenge of producing robust measures and indicators related to the green economy as a whole thereby essentially enabling policy makers to make the concept of green growth operational and providing proper International tools to measure and monitor economic effect.


The central government has introduced an array of initiative including strategic partnership with Denmark, production linked incentives to solar power manufacturers and the renewable energy technologies push by the Department of Science and Technology. The telecommunication Industry has also issued directions to the Telecom Service Providers for using sustainable energy technologies.


However despite of all the efforts, India is lacking at the energy front due to its over dependency on three fuels: coal, oil and solid biomass which take decades to replenish if not centuries and fulfils around 80% of the energy needs of the country!


The recent pandemic has also introduced global crisis in all the sectors. According to a report on India Energy Outlook, published by the International Energy Agency, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and a series of lockdowns and related restrictions, there has been a 5% decline in India's energy demand in 2020, with petroleum and coal use suffering the major fall. The pandemic also affected investments in the energy sector, with a fall of about 15% in 2020


Challenges to Sustainable Growth and Patenting

The predominant hurdle to attaining sustainable growth by rigorous innovation spree is posed by the recent Covid-19 pandemic which hampered the research and development in energy sector, mojaorly declined investment capacity, distracted the government policies to other prssing nessecities, lowered the pace of documentation for application and granting of patents, reduced the per capity income and affordability of cleaner fuels by renewable resources and much more! All the countries around the world are struggling to restore the damages caused in the recent years but still there is a long road to normality.


The other challenge in switching to alternative fuels is finding the appropriate geographical conditions for generating energy from renewable resources such as tidal, hydro and wind which requires extensive set-up and abundance of that resource whereas coal and petroleum are easily transported and stored as per requirement. Also, most of the renewable energy resources are variable in nature and the amount of energy generated through them is uneven and uncertain throughout the year and across regions.


It has also been observed that the transfer of technologies in renewable energy faces difficulties in the field of transaction and assurance cost. Many a times, the transfer does not succeed due to a larger transaction cost of the technology involved.


Government policies and subsidies can also play a major role in determining the innovation growth. It also includes the intervention of Competition Laws, Privatisation, government sponsored R&D, decline in oil and petroleum prices leading to lesser incentives for sustainable alternatives. In contrast, the difficulties in patenting mostly relates to the territorial nature of patent rights which provides protection only in the country we are applying in and different countries having their specific classification schemes and regulation policies. The diffusion of technological advancements across countries is more often complicated than not. The policy makers and investors find it hard to analyse the patent databases due to this non uniformity and different classification systems yielding different results of patent search.. However, the complete picture of determinants for the green energy patenting slowdown is not entirely clear.


Conclusion

According to Charles Darwin’s theories, our only chance of survival is to adapt to the changing environment and for that we need a major shift to green resources for power. From the aforementioned global statistics and report, it can certainly be inferred that growth in sustainable development technologies cannot be overlooked and constant cycle of innovations and patenting is only way to move ahead with time! The data shows the growth in each sector and makes us realise that even though we are steadily inclined towards sustainable environment, we are still majorly dependent on tapping fossil fuels and slowly depreciating sources of energy for meeting our demands. The patent databases are great way to spotlight the areas of lesser growth that are lacking innovations to survive in today’s conditions. The global warming, drastic environmental changes and worldwide pandemic are nature’s warning to human kind for mending their ways to a sustainable future and inventions are the only way to accelerate development by effectively utilising renewable resources such as solar, tidal, wind and hydro, just enough to keep pace with what the future!

Concluding with the famous words: “Sustainable Development is the masterful balance of meeting our own needs without jeopardizing the future generations’ ability to do the same”

[i] Supra 4, pg. 3 [i] Rivera León, Kyle Bergquist, Sacha Wunsch-Vincent, Ning Xu and Kunihiko Fushimi. “Measuring innovation in energy technologies: green patents as captured by WIPO's IPC green inventory.” Economic Research Working Paper No. 44, pg. 10, WIPO, https://www.wipo.int/edocs/pubdocs/en/wipo_pub_econstat_wp_44.pdf