Intellectual Property Rights and Climate Change: Principles for Innovation and Access to Low-Carbon Technology

8 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2010

Date Written: December 1, 2009


As the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting convenes this month in Copenhagen, Denmark, intellectual property (IP) rights remain a highly contentious issue that threatens the long-term prospects of these negotiations. Meaningful and sustainable reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions necessitate further innovation and deployment of low-carbon ("clean") technologies to avoid cuts in energy consumption that are politically infeasible and undermine economic development in developing countries. Further development and dissemination of clean technologies requires a workable IP framework. Views in the UNFCCC process, however, remain divided, largely along north-south lines, over whether IP rights are a significant potential barrier to the international transfer of clean technology or necessary to induce its development and effective deployment. Failure to reconcile these two positions could derail the negotiations and diminish chances for effective climate control. A new approach is needed.

This note (1) describes the need for consensus on IP rights in the UNFCCC negotiations; (2) suggests principles for addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by IP in this context; and (3) puts forward the broad outline of an approach that would facilitate the uptake of clean technologies, preserve incentives for privately financed innovation, and allow the Parties to address and move past the issue of IP rights in the UNFCCC negotiations.

Keywords: Climate Change, Intellectual Property, Trade, Clean Technology, Innovation

Suggested Citation

Bollyky, Thomas J., Intellectual Property Rights and Climate Change: Principles for Innovation and Access to Low-Carbon Technology (December 1, 2009). Center for Global Development Note, December 2009. Available at SSRN:

Thomas J. Bollyky (Contact Author)

Council on Foreign Relations ( email )

1777 F Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006
United States

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