Whether it is called green tech or clean tech, environmental and sustainable technologies have been gaining momentum and attracting attention in the patent world. Green technology can encompass a wide range of technologies, such as fuel cells, solar, wind, hybrid/electric vehicles, biofuel/biomass, tidal energy, hydroelectric, geothermal, emission controls, water treatment, and recycling, to name some examples. International patent offices are providing incentives for green-innovative businesses to develop and quickly bring products incorporating green technology into the marketplace.
Even though the United States Patent and Trademark Office is no longer accepting petitions under the Green Technology Pilot Program, there are a number of special or accelerated programs available worldwide for applicants seeking patent protection for environmentally focused technologies. In particular, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, South Korea, Israel, Japan, China and Brazil have instituted permanent or pilot programs for green innovators.
The United Kingdom paved the way for green inventions by offering the Green Channel acceleration scheme, which enables inventions with an environmental benefit to be given priority within the patent system. The applicant can request acceleration by indicating how their application is environmentally friendly and by identifying which actions to accelerate, including search, examination, publication or some combination of all three. The request can be made at the time of filing or at a later date, and there is no special fee for accelerated prosecution under the Green Channel program.
In Canada, applicants can apply for expedited examination, without an additional fee, by supplying a declaration stating that their application relates to technology that, if commercialized, would help to resolve or mitigate environmental impacts or conserve the natural environment and resources.
Australia is also helping green innovators to fast track their environmentally friendly technologies by offering priority in the patent application system with no additional fee.
In South Korea, applicants may request a Super-Highway patent examination if the invention falls within one of the seven technologies enumerated, for example, water quality or waste management or additional green categories when the invention receives financial support or certification from the Korean government.
Applicants can file for a Green Patent in Israel if the technology can help to preserve or improve the quality of the environment, mitigate global warming, reduce air or water pollution, promote non-polluting agriculture, save energy, facilitate recycling, enhance resource management or the like.
Japan also offers accelerated examination for green technology-related applications that have an energy-saving effect and contribute to CO2 reduction.
The State Intellectual Property Office of China has recently provided for prioritized examination of technologies related to energy conservation and environmental protection or promoting the development of green technologies.
The National Institute of Industrial Property in Brazil also recently launched a pilot program to accelerate green patent applications. The pilot program is currently limited to the first 500 applications meeting the Brazilian requirements.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office’s Green Technology Pilot Program accelerated examination of applications directed to inventions that materially enhanced the quality of the environment. Even though the Pilot Program has now closed, U.S. applicants can accelerate examination of their environmental inventions by pursuing prioritized examination or the standard accelerated examination procedure. The first track, prioritized examination, comes with a steep cost, however, of $2,400 for small entities and $4,800 for large entities. The standard accelerated examination procedure can be triggered by petition if the invention is directed to environmental quality or energy, but the petition also requires a pre-examination search with submission and an explanation of material prior art.
The requirements in each jurisdiction are varied, but the result is the same – accelerated examination or special status for applicants seeking patent protection for environmentally focused technologies. Therefore, if your company is developing green technology, it may be worth considering the advantages of pursuing one or more of these international programs.
Christine E. Bradley is an Associate in the Malvern, PA office of Stradley, Ronon, Stevens & Young, LLP. She focuses her practice on intellectual property matters and has extensive experience in patent procurement and intellectual property strategy and risk management issues.