The Sustainable Development Goals are defined by the United Nations as “the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all”. These 17 goals are all interconnected and address a variety of topics from poverty to health, including clean water, clean energy, sustainable cities and others. Many Latin American countries have ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico…), therefore, committing to fight climate change and adapt to its effect through new technologies, amongst other.
In this framework, a legitimate question seems to come to mind. What role can intellectual property play in this fight?
As a patent seek to reward those coming up with the most disruptive technologies, their importance in ensuring sustainable development is undeniable. Whether it is building the next water filter, a new collector for wind power or ensuring sustainable farming through technological improvements, patents will, most likely, be the IP right in charge of protecting such developments.
With all the above in mind, the WIPO Green platform is a valuable resource. This is an online platform for technology exchange seeking to connect providers and seekers of environmentally friendly technologies. Through its database, network and acceleration projects, WIPO Green seeks to act as the perfect intermediary to boost green technology innovation and diffusion.
One example of WIPO GREEN’s projects is the acceleration project they launched in 2019: “climate smart agriculture in Latin America”. This acceleration project focuses on climate smart agriculture, exploring local challenges and potential green opportunities in:
- wine production in Chile;
- crop rotation, soil re-carbonization and cattle rearing in Argentina, and;
- zero-till or conservation agriculture in Brazil.
Through this project, WIPO, with help from national intellectual property offices and local partners, this program aims to mobilize innovative new technologies in the region and to facilitate tangible links between all players, looking for green solutions and potential technology providers through the database.
The Brazilian Green Patent Program reflects the importance of patents for the “green” industry. All countries are well aware that fields like alternative energy production or clean transport require a great effort in research and development and constant investments in innovation: patents are the only way to protect such efforts.
The Brazilian Patent Office is also aware of the difficulties and problems posed by the current backlog: in a field that is constantly innovating, technologies might become obsolete by the time the patent is granted. That’s why, in April 2012, the Brazilian IP Office launched an innovative fast-track program exclusively for “green patents” (the list of technologies fitting that definition was compiled by the Brazilian Office based on WIPO’s green inventory).
This program seeks to accelerate green patent applications, reducing the average time to less than 2 years and focuses on the following areas: alternative energy, transportation, energy conservation, waste management and agriculture. This, therefore, includes technologies such as biofuels, geothermal energy, ocean thermal energy, hydrogen-powered vehicles and use of waste for the production of fertilizers, among others.
The green patent fast-track program started initially as a pilot program and was limited to 500 patents. Data collected from 2012 shows that the program was a success: on a total of 480 applications, 325 were considered eligible for the priority examination and the average time for granting a patent was about two years.
Given the success of the program, the program became permanent in 2016.
Consumers are increasingly motivated to be more environmentally conscious. With that shift towards more sustainable consuming habits, brands from across sectors are changing their practices.
In the cosmetic industry, you can see companies who have built their business by betting on 100% natural and organic ingredients.
Ahal, a Mexican cosmetic company, is a good example. The owner identified a need in the Mexican market where no products were produced with natural ingredients. The innovation in Ahal consists in the way cosmetics are formulated: all of them are biodegradable and organic and have no negative impact on the environment. Not only the majority of its suppliers are indigenous Mexican communities, but also Ahal uses artisanal oils of Marula, Karité, Baobab and Mongongo extracted in a sustainable manner by women from South Africa. This Mexican SME is growing fast and is already planning its next steps to reach more consumers through e-commerce and other initiatives.
Other companies have opted to change by looking for ways to reduce their waste or being more mindful as to where they source their products. For example, The Body Shop, owned by the Brazilian company “Natura&Co” announced that it would buy 250 tons of Community Trade recycled plastic from Bengaluru, India, which will be transformed into nearly 3 million haircare. The brand is also launching its new recycling and repurposing scheme ‘Return. Recycle. Repeat.’ to encourage customers to give back their empty tubes, pots, jars and tubs to stores.
All these actions impact positively in the brand’s reputation and goodwill, benefiting not only the brand itself but also contributing positively to sustainable development.
Directly or indirectly, intellectual property rights support sustainable development. Adjusting your business and IP strategy is necessary not only on the short term, but also on the long term.