Saturday, April 21, 2012

Discussion: Should patent law apply to geo-engineering?

UPDATE:  The Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE) project has cancelled its outdoor ‘1km testbed’ experiment. 

Nature News - 15 May 2012 - by Daniel Cressey
Geoengineering experiment cancelled amid patent row.
Balloon-based ‘testbed’ for climate-change mitigation abandoned

David Keith, a Harvard University professor and an adviser on energy to Microsoft founder Bill Gates, said he and his colleagues are researching whether the federal government could ban patents in the field of solar radiation, according to a report in Scientific American.

Some of his colleagues last week traveled to Washington, D.C., where they discussed whether the U.S. Patent Office could ban patents on the technology, Keith said.

"We think it's very dangerous for these solar radiation technologies, it's dangerous to have it be privatized," Keith said. "The core technologies need to be public domain."
As suggested by Sam Carana, a declaration of emergency, as called for by the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG), could be another way to deal with this issue.

A declaration of Emergency could give governments the power to overrule patents, where they stand in the way of fast-tracking geo-engineering projects proposed under emergency rules.Thus, patents don't need to be banned, prohibited or taken away; instead, patents will continue to apply in all situations other than the emergency situation, while new patents could also continue to be lodged during the emergency period.
Even where patents are directly applicable to proposed projects, patent law would still continue to apply; the emergency rules would merely allow governments to proceed in specific situations, avoiding that projects are being held up by legal action, exorbitant prices or withholding of crucial information.

A declaration of emergency could also speed up projects by removing the need to comply with all kinds of time-consuming bureaucratic procedures, such as the need to get formal approvals and permits from various departments, etc. This brings us to the need to comply with international protocols and agreements. If declared internationally, a declaration of emergency could overrule parts of such agreements where they pose unacceptable delays and cannot be resolved through diplomacy.

The issue is also discussed here and here at the Geoengineering group at Google.