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Green patents

The EPO is engaged in a joint study with the United Nations Environment Programme and the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development on the relationship between patents and the development and transfer of clean energy technologies.

As an adjunct to that project, the European Patent Office (EPO) developed new subclasses with the code “Y02” within its patent classification system dedicated solely to selected climate change mitigation technology (CCMT) areas. There are more than 100,000 patent documents classified under this patent classification. You will soon be able to use specific Y02 codes and key words to search for patent data in your field of clean technology via the esp@cenet database at www.espacenet.com.

Below you can see a graphic presentation of EPO statistics on the worldwide relative growth rates of green patent filings relative to other fields of technology published in the February 2010 issue of Managing Intellectual Property. The timing of increased CCMT patent activity corresponds closely to the date of the Kyoto protocol. Recent climate change regulation and incentives are expected to further increase the need for patents to protect the enormous investments required to bring new CCMT to market.

Also in the U.S., things are moving forward. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office announced a pilot program to expedite examination of U.S. patent applications in “green” technologies for U.S. patent applications having a U.S. nonprovisional or international filing date prior to 8 December 2009. Participation requires submission of a request prior to a first U.S. Office action on the merits in the application to be expedited. A first Office action in the parent of a continuation or divisional application does not count against a later-filed continuation or divisional application filed prior to 8 December 2009.

As of 21 May 2010, 950 requests for expedited examination were submitted of which 342 were accepted when the subject matter was restricted to certain patent classifications (see our 16 December 2009 news item on www. vereenigde.com for details). According to a recent USPTO announcement, this program is now open to all kinds of “green technology”. In view of this development, the number of granted requests is expected to increase dramatically. Since the maximum number of patent applications is limited to 3,000 this year, let us know if you would like to explore the availability of this program for your pending unexamined U.S. patent applications.

The list of countries offering the option of accelerating examination of green patent applications has been growing. Other examples include the State IP Office of the People”s Republic of China (SIPO), the Korean IP Office, IP Australia, and the UK IP Office. The Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) network offers the option of multiplying the accelerated examination effect beyond the countries offering acceleration of green technology patents.

In view of this development, disclosing the usefulness of the invention for solving environmentally relevant problems in new patent applications may facilitate obtaining expedited examination in a substantial number of countries.

Patents play a dual role in protecting the investments required to commercialize new technology while stimulating advancement in the state of the art through the spread of ideas. With public and private support for CCMT at an all time high, the time to patent your ideas in this field has never been better.