One of these lies in just how the world manages the creation and ownership of inventions and concepts. A protectionist approach to Inventor Ideas is designed to protect and prolong the lifecycle of existing technologies, and allow innovators to capture the profits from their creations. In a paper published with colleagues from universities in Germany and India, we examined how this also makes it more difficult for new and much more sustainable technologies to be developed and adopted. That explains why there are now other approaches being utilized to move key sectors to more sustainable systems and end this status quo.
Electric car manufacturer Tesla, has been doing just that. Tesla CEO Elon Musk “shocked” the world in 2014 as he announced that his company was joining the open source movement and handing out its patents free of charge. It is essential to be aware of the rationale here. Why would a company who had worked so hard to develop and protect its technology from its global car manufacturer competitors suddenly give its technology away free of charge?
Tesla initially developed a patent portfolio to protect its technology. However, Tesla’s concern that it would be overwhelmed once established car makers ramped up their creation of electric cars never came to pass. Instead, it saw the electrical car market stagnate at less than 1% of total vehicle sales. So Tesla changed its strategy from attempting to prevent others from building electric cars to trying to encourage them into the market.
Area of the reasoning here is that if more electric cars are designed, then more battery recharging stations will be built too. This could make electric cars become more visible, along with a more conventional choice. Tesla believes an open Inventors Helpline can strengthen rather than diminish its position by building the size of the electric car market, and as a result, build their own share from the total automotive market.
This kind of careful handling of intellectual property at company level, maintained by policy-level awareness, can become a powerful approach to keep the same forms of transitions to more sustainable technologies in other industries too.
Energy supply faces an array of difficulties: the depletion of natural resources; air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions; nuclear risks; and security of supply. The water supply sector is restricted by water scarcity, pollutants, extreme environmental events like flooding and expenses associated with supplying water to communities in poor countries and remote communities. The agri-food sector, meanwhile, is under pressure to sustainably produce more food as well as address malnutrition in poor countries.
For such industries to navigate a path around these problems, new knowledge and the innovations that follow is going to be essential. As well as in knowledge economies, intellectual property can either be an enabler or an inhibitor.
When the ownership of intellectual property is fragmented within an industry, it can slow down technology innovation and uptake, like within the electronics industry where multiple players own complementary patents. However, firms can instead start their innovation processes and move away from jealously guarded, internal cultures, where intellectual property can be used to safeguard and prolong lifecycles. This change may see knowledge sharing that leads to accelerated innovation cycles and a more rapid uptake of sustainable alternatives within a sector: just what Tesla was dreaming about in electric vehicles.
This approach to Invention Patent, so-called “open IP”, is well advanced and mature within the software industry and healthcare. It offers given access to life-saving medicines to thousands of people, particularly in developing countries through patent pools, such as the Medicine Patent Pool. This kind of project relies upon multinational pharmaceutical companies sharing their jjnywy property, but small companies can also play a strategic roles in creating these new, more sustainable systems, and it’s not every about open IP.