What is circular economy?
The European Parliament has recently approved a classification based on six objectives, which aim to orient public investments in countries of the block to achieve goals, already established and agreed upon regarding the climate, with guidelines against pollution of rivers, seas and international commitments concerning waste: mitigation of climatic changes; adaptation to climatic alterations; sustainable use and protection of water resources; transition to a circular economy; prevention and control of pollution; protection and restoration of biodiversity and two ecosystems.
Circular Economy goes beyond “the three R’s”: reduce, reuse, recycle – as it seeks to link sustainability and technological development. Circular Economy’s goals are to link sustainability and technological development, eventually leading to a regenerative mindset. Not merely recycling, but restoring some damages caused by human action, while generating and distributing profits.
It is a concept inspired by nature’s cycles, as opposed to linear productive models: waste materials and remnants of various productive methods are transformed into input for new products. “Cradle to cradle” is a common moniker for this model, as it mimics natural loops, much like fruit leftovers decompose and turn into manure, the idea of waste ceases to exist, giving way to a manner of using everything as an input for a new cycle.
Circular economy system has been both proposed and merged with state-of-the-art concepts, such as regenerative design, performance economy, cradle to cradle cycles, industrial ecology, biomimetics, blue economy, and synthetic biology.
Concerning the EU, the estimation of establishing circular economy principles across the member countries is translated into the potential to increase EU GDP by an additional 0.5% by 2030 creating around 700 000 new jobs. One increasingly appealing aspect of circular economy for the EU is the dependability towards raw materials. EU manufacturing companies spend on average 40% on base input – adopting closed-loop models can largely increase the profitability of such operations and shield them from commodity market fluctuations.
In an effort to incentivize the development of such green technologies, INPI (Brazilian Patent and Trademark Office, henceforth referenced as BPTO), as of October 2012, launched its Green Patent Pilot Programme. The stimulus is offered to be a fast-track lane for patent applications classified as green technology. Should one patent application classify for such fast-track, the timeframe required for the examination can be reduced to as much as two years. In order to qualify as a green patent, it must touch at least one of the following themes: alternative energies, transportation, energy conservation, waste management, or sustainable agriculture.
In what concerns technology transfer agreements, the disclosure and licensing of green technologies is also quite expedited by the BPTO, aiming to make said technologies widely available to Brazilian nationals. Along the same way, the Office maintains a public list on its website containing all existing and ready-to-use green patents in Brazil.
Notably, most green technologies in Brazil are linked to sustainability, specifically regarding energy generation, both wind and solar, and those related to agropastoralism and waste treatment. There is plenty of room for the development of productivity-oriented technologies and processes.
Small & Medium businesses and Patents
A noteworthy program by the BPTO aims at prioritizing the examination of patent requests submitted by small or micro businesses. Initially presented as a pilot project, much like the green patent fast-track, the PME program accepted 300 patent requests submitted from able applicants, during the year 2016. It has since been reissued in subsequent years up to 2019, halted during the pandemic, most likely to return in 2021.
Additionally, BPTO subscribes to the Iberian-American Programme for Industrial Property (IBEPI): a comprehensive database compiling extensive information concerning competition, technical, and legal data about patents.
As a showcase, Natura is the first Brazilian cosmetics company to receive a Green Patent from the BPTO. The company developed a mechanism that uses waste from the Amazonia rainforest as an input. According to Natura, the biomass that is obtained from the extraction of oil from oleaginous plants such as murumuru, andiroba, and Brazilian Nuts are now used in their new products and formulae.
Several examples of technologies that were created and developed for sustainable development: generation of energy from waste (waste-to-energy); plastic to oil converters; solar highways; air-powered automobiles; vertical farms, etc. These are just some of the inventions that have fostered heated discussions between those who support and those who disapprove of the so-called “green patents”.
The centre of the apparent dichotomy ‘economic development versus environment’ lies in the fact that countless patent offices around the world, aware of the worldwide trend to encourage the development of sustainable technologies, create ways to encourage and facilitate the process of patenting these technologies. Although the purpose of green inventions is notoriously the protection of the environment – something that, according to the consensus, cannot wait.
In order to encourage the creation of inventions that aim to reduce the impacts caused to the environment, patent registration offices in several countries around the world, as already mentioned, have adopted procedures, known as “fast-track”, which aim to speed up the examination of green patent applications. The adoption of such faster procedures aims to stimulate the creation and sharing of green technologies, by analyzing patent applications in substantially shorter periods, speeding up the supply of these inventions to the consumer market.
The agency responsible for the American patents (USPTO), for example, reduced the time for examination and granting green patents from 40 to 12 months, but limited to the first 3,000 filed applications. In the United Kingdom, the time reduction offered for this type of innovation is even greater: from 32 months to just 8 months. In Brazil, BPTO has launched its green patent program in 2012, reducing the expected examination required time from 72 (seventy-two) to 24 months.
An example of a well-known and successful European in green patents is the German photovoltaics pioneer Adolf Goetzberger, founder of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) in Freiburg, who laid the foundation for Europe’s strong position in the solar energy market. In 2009, Goetzberger was named “European Inventor of the Year” for his lifetime achievement in solar energy generation.
BPTO and fast-tracking for Green Patents
BPTO’s Patent program aims to contribute to global climate change and aims to speed up the examination of patent applications related to environmentally friendly technologies. With this initiative, the Office also makes it possible to identify new technologies that can be quickly used by society, stimulating their licensing, and encouraging innovation in the country – the fast-track offered in the patent examination can be used by nationals and foreigners alike.
For electronic filing, the user must access BPTO’s e-patents platform and fill in the online form. Documents sent digitally have faster processing in the registration and formal examination phase and retribution have a discount of about 25%. As of 2012, BPTO has changed its process of the numbering of new orders. With this modification, at the time of application, the applicant receives a number considered definitive – to request participation in the Green Patents program, possession of this definitive numbering, the applicant must reference it throughout the generation process of the required payment forms (GRU or Guia de Recolhimento da União).
Features and known issues
The “speeding value” of fast-granted patents favours early protection: inventors have strong incentives to apply for the patent as soon as possible to protect their inventions. In turn, this would speed up market penetration of their products, especially in foreign markets, as it requires investors to possess local experience, capabilities, assist specificity, resources, networks, and other conditions. Additionally, patents are also considered an intermediate step between R&D and innovation; early patents may provide more knowledge references for sequence R&D activity in short term.
Even though it might seem highly beneficial to enjoy fast-tracking examination for patents, some individuals might prefer longer timeframes, as longer periods allow the applicant to adjust the patent application, in particular the list of claims, during the examination process. Longer examination periods would also allow for delaying the costs associated with the granting of the patent, whilst giving the applicant time to determine the commercial viability of the invention, before requesting the grant.
In most cases, however, “early exposure” of the technology to any market does not necessarily lead to the rise of a new competitor or enhancement of current competitors. According to PATVAL survey (2005), most European inventions (the survey targets the investors in Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Netherlands, and the UK) were not developed furthermost commonly for three reasons: estimated costs were expected to go beyond the resources (94.84% European investors agreed), further improvements could have resulted in another invention (97.69% agreed) and further improvements seemed beyond existing technological opportunities (90.66% agreed). The lack of complementary downstream assets also prevents an invention from further development.
For those companies which use licensing-based business models, BPTO launched on September 2020 an initiative called Vitrine de PI, or in English IP Window Shopping, a platform in which patentees may offer their patents for non-exclusive licenses. In this initiative, the BPTO stimulates technology transfer and licensing deals by showcasing all available technologies coming for all over the world, at the same time ensuring the owners are fairly compensated for the use of their technologies.