The International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development just published a timely and informative report on the accelerated examination programs for green technology patent applications offered by a number of national patent offices around the world.
Antoine Dechezleprêtre, a Research Fellow at the Grantham Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, conducted the study and wrote the report.
Entitled “Fast-tracking Green Patent Applications,” the report is the first empirical analysis of these programs. It addresses important questions such as the number of patents accelerated under the programs, the technologies of participating applications, whether and how much the programs reduce time from filing to grant, the value of fast tracked patents, and knowledge diffusion of the patented inventions.
Data were analyzed for the programs in Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, Korea, the United Kingdom (UK), and the United States (US). Brazil and China now have green patent fast track programs, and are discussed briefly, but they are too new to be analyzed in the study.
The study looked at the volume of green patents accelerated in each program as well as the proportion of participating applications as a share of total green patents. It found that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) had by far the most patents (3,533), followed by the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) with 776 and the Korea Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) with 604.
For most programs, a very small share of the average annual number of green patents participated. In Australia, Canada, Japan and Korea between 1% and 2% of green patents requested acceleration, though the percentages were substantially higher in the US (8%), Israel (13%), and the UK (20%). A related finding is that the vast majority of participants in the US and UK programs were domestic applicants, with only small percentages applying to the programs from abroad. Perhaps harmonization of the programs, as I suggested here, would boost participation particularly across borders.
The study found that technologies relating to climate change, particularly renewable energy, comprised the vast majority of fast tracked patents, with some variations across different countries. In the US, wind power was the major technology (boosted significantly by GE, by far the number one assignee in the US program), with carbon capture and storage big in Australia and Canada.
Perhaps most important in view of these programs’ raison d’être, the empirical evidence presented shows that the green patent fast track programs reduce the time from filing to grant by several years compared to ordinary examination. The time to grant has been cut between 42% and 75% across the programs, with the best improvement delivered by the UK program.
As to the applicants, the report found that most are small entities:
We found that fast-track users differ statistically from non-users in that they tend to have smaller revenues and smaller but faster-growing assets. In other words, the fast-tracking programme seems to appeal particularly to start-up companies in the green technology sector that are currently raising capital but still generating small revenue.
Two intriguing issues explored by the study are the value of the patents applicants elected to accelerate in the programs and the knowledge diffusion effect of the fast tracked patents. Using several common patent value metrics, the study found that fast tracked patents were of significantly higher value than green patents issued after ordinary examination:
Overall, our results consistently show that fast-track patents are of higher value than equivalent patents going through the normal procedure.
The study used forward citations to measure diffusion of the technical knowledge in fast tracked patents compared to non-fast tracked patents and found that accelerated patents exhibit a higher citation rate, indicating greater knowledge diffusion:
Compared with patents filed in the same month, of similar value but not fast-tracked, fast-track patents received twice as many citations in the same time period. The estimated impact of fast-tracking on forward citations ranges between 50% and 150%, depending on whether citations made by examiners are included or not. Thus, there appears to be strong evidence that green patent fast-tracking programmes accelerate the diffusion of knowledge in green technologies in the short run – i.e., during the first years following the publication of the patents.
You can get more information and download the report here.
Eric Lane is a patent attorney at McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP in San Diego and the author of Green Patent Blog. Mr. Lane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org