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Before saving the world, you need the right armour

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The opportunity
Do you want to save the world and make money doing it? That’s the opportunity that presents itself with the introduction of the Australian Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and other Emissions Trading Schemes (ETS) being introduced around the world.
ETS are putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions. Unless enterprises subject to an ETS reduce their emissions they are in danger of ceasing to be competitive and withering away. Consequently, enterprises will be interested in solutions that you can provide to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
There is a new clean and sustainable technology and service gold rush that you can be part of and it is not just confined to clean energy and climate change mitigation technologies. Venture capitalists are describing this as “the biggest economic opportunity of the 21st century”. But be warned, the business environment may be highly competitive.
Protecting yourself
In competitive and rapidly moving fields such as clean and sustainable technologies, new developments overwhelmingly become the subject of intense patent and trade mark filing activity. It is a good idea to put some effort into developing your patents and trade marks so that you can stop your competitors from locking you out of the market – think of patents and trade marks as armour you strap on before entering the fray. Perhaps you could use your patents to extract concessions from competitors, especially during a dispute. You may be able to use your patent portfolio to negotiate yourself out of trouble when others allege infringement. Patenting your clean and sustainable technology also ensures that your investment in R&D and commercialisation will be returned rather than being eroded by others hitching a free ride.
Patentees get a seat at the negotiating table – you need to put your chips on the table before you can play the game. Potential investors will generally inspect your patent portfolio before funding your enterprise.
A patent provides you with exclusive rights to commercially exploit your invention. In a well developed industry such as power generation, however, licensing your patented technology is perhaps a more effective mechanism to bring your technology to the market. Licensing of patented technology can result in a rapid and broad coverage and can be highly profitable.
Protect in developing nations
Government policy appears to be developing towards providing strong incentive to bring clean and sustainable technologies to developing nations. The policies include international carbon markets, clean development mechanismsand the funding of new technologies. Consequently, you may wish to consider filing patents in developing, as well as developed, nations.
Watch out
Your competitors may be trying to block you from the market by filing their own patents, but if you discover this you may be able to do something about it. Watching your competitors’ patents may also provide intelligence on their strategic direction. Have your competitors missed a strategic piece of real estate that you can monopolise? Before you start a project you may wish to check that the project outcomes can be used without infringing the patent of others. Otherwise, your competitors will have control.
Marketing, trade marks and domain names
As part of your marketing you can register your trade marks and domain names. Then you can stop others from using them. Clean and sustainable trade marks and domain names are expected to be in high demand, however, so you better get in quick. Take care that you are not seen to be misleading consumers. The ACCC has warned that terms such as “carbon neutral”, “carbon offset”, “carbon footprint” and other “green” phrases may mislead if they are not substantiated or accompanied by explanatory material. This is likely to extend to trade mark use.
It is a good idea to act now to ensure that your intellectual property is secured and that you are not locked out of this rapidly growing and competitive technology space.
Dr Justin Blows is an associate at Griffith Hack Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys. He can be contacted at justin.blows[@]griffithhack.com.au for further information.
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