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I Feel the Need, the Intellectual Need for Speed: A Framework, Utilizing Patents, to Foster Technology Transfer of Climate Change/Green/Technologies

I Feel the Need, the Intellectual Need for Speed: A Framework, Utilizing Patents, to Foster Technology Transfer of Climate Change/Green/Technologies

Rinku Kapoor

Imagine: a diverse group of thirty scholars from MIT gather around a court yard of palm trees to discuss the predicament of mankind in the face of five factors: unsustainable population growth, rapid industrialization, pollution, food production and resource depletion.[1] In 1969, inspired by United Nations General Secretary, Mr. Thant’s speech on defusing population explosion by forging global partnerships quickly, Dr. Aurelio Peccei organized the MIT conference mentioned above.[2] If global alliances were not forged quickly, Mr. Thant feared the world’s problems would reach “staggering proportions . . . beyond our capacity to control.”[3] This conference of great minds advances a model, known as “Limits to Growth,” which used a computer model to simulate the consequences of the five factors that ultimately limit growth on this planet.[4]  

The challenge to the Limits to Growth model is technology. It attacks the concept of finite limits making the model illusory.[5] If technology grows faster than population growth, “the result is a divergence between [technology] the limiting factor and [population growth] the growth parameter” in turn avoiding a catastrophe.[6] In other words, new technologies constantly create more efficient use of finite resources such that resources never completely reach the finite limit.

Today, the world is facing the challenge of global climate change with a growing population of 7.4 billion. Is technology the answer to the climate change challenge? To avoid the catastrophic events brought on by climate change, “a range of technologies” and their wide dissemination has to be the answer.[7] Intellectual property presents one way to foster transfer of technologies, providing solutions to climate change.[8]

Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution secures intellectual property (“IP”) rights by granting Congress the power “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing, for limited Times, to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”[9] This right is premised upon Lockean theory—“natural right to the fruits of one’s own labor.”[10][11] If intellectual property is a right, should access to the solutions provided by /climate change/green technologies not be a human right? Climate change/green technologies may be the solution to human rights concerns, such as “hunger, displacement, and loss of culture,” which are consequences of climate change.

This Note will propose a framework, using existing laws, mechanisms, and current practices, which utilize IP law and mechanisms to foster the technology transfer of climate change/green technologies. Part I will provide a historical narrative in relation to climate change/green technology patents. Part II will discuss IP laws and mechanisms and compare the differences in the structure of these laws and mechanisms. This discussion helps to determine what existing legal structures will limit or potentially prohibit the framework proposed in Part IV. Next, Part III will provide case studies of models for transfer of climate change/green technologies and analyze the different legal and policy mechanisms utilized. Lastly, Part IV proposes a proposed IP framework that includes: (1) a universal definition of climate change/green technology, (2) a legal framework, (3) policy arguments supporting this proposed framework, (4) a discussion on how access to climate change/green technology is a human right, and (5) the best mechanisms to assist with climate change/green technology transfer.

Questions and inquiries regarding this Note may be forwarded to the author at LawReview@vermontlaw.edu.


[1]Donella H. Meadows et al., The Limits to Growth 9, 21 (1972).

[2]Id. at 17.

[3]Id.

[4]Id. at 11.

[5]David B. Firestone et al., Environmental Law For Non-Lawyers 9 (5th ed. 2014).

[6]Id. at 10.

[7]Abbe E. L. Brown, Environmental technologies, intellectual property and climate change: accessing, obtaining and protecting 23 (2013). 

[8]Id.

[9]U.S. Const. art. 1, § 8, cl. 8.  

[10] Randloph J. May & Seth L. Cooper, The Constitutional Foundations of Intellectual Property, The Free State Found., May 10, 2013, at 2.

[11] Kavita Kapur, Climate Change, Intellectual Property, and the Scope of Human Rights Obligations, 11 Sustainable Dev. L. & Pol’y 58 (2011).

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