One of these lies in how the world manages the creation and ownership of inventions and ideas. A protectionist approach to intellectual property is made to protect and prolong the lifecycle of existing technologies, and allow Invention to capture the profits from their creations. In a paper published with colleagues from universities in Germany and India, we examined how this also makes it tougher for new and much more sustainable technologies to be developed and adopted. That explains why there are now other approaches being utilized to move key sectors to more sustainable systems and end this status quo.
Electric car manufacturer Tesla, continues to be doing exactly that. Tesla CEO Elon Musk “shocked” the planet in 2014 as he announced that his company was joining the open source movement and handing out its patents at no cost. It is essential to comprehend the rationale here. Why would an organization that had worked so desperately to build up and protect its technology looking at the global car manufacturer competitors suddenly give its technology away for free?
Tesla initially created a patent portfolio to protect its technology. However, Tesla’s concern that it might be overwhelmed once established car makers ramped up their production of electric cars never arrived at pass. Instead, it saw the electrical car market stagnate at lower than 1% of total vehicle sales. So Tesla changed its strategy from seeking to prevent others from building electric cars to seeking to encourage them into the market.
Area of the reasoning here is that if more electric cars are made, then more battery recharging stations will likely be built too. This would make electric cars be a little more visible, as well as a more conventional choice. Tesla believes that the open intellectual property strategy can strengthen instead of diminish its position by building the dimensions of the electric car market, and for that reason, build their own share in the total automotive market.
This kind of careful management of intellectual property at company level, backed up by policy-level awareness, can be quite a powerful approach to secure the same kinds of transitions to more sustainable technologies in other industries too.
Energy supply faces an array of difficulties: the depletion of natural resources; air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions; nuclear risks; and security of supply. The water supply sector is restricted by water scarcity, pollutants, extreme environmental events including flooding and expenses related to supplying water to communities in poor countries and remote communities. The agri-food sector, meanwhile, is under pressure to sustainably produce more food and to address malnutrition in poor countries.
For these particular industries to navigate a path around these complications, new knowledge and the Technology that follow will be essential. And then in knowledge economies, intellectual property may either be an enabler or an inhibitor.
If the ownership of intellectual property is fragmented within an industry, it could decrease technology innovation and uptake, including within the electronics industry where multiple players own complementary patents. However, firms can instead open up their innovation processes and move away from jealously guarded, internal cultures, where intellectual property is rtaotl to guard and prolong lifecycles. This transformation may see knowledge sharing leading to accelerated New Ideas For Inventions as well as a more rapid uptake of sustainable alternatives within a sector: exactly what Tesla was longing for in electric vehicles.
This strategy to intellectual property, so-called “open IP”, is well advanced and mature inside the software industry and healthcare. It provides given access to life-saving medicines to millions of people, particularly in developing countries through patent pools, such as the Medicine Patent Pool. This kind of project relies on multinational pharmaceutical companies sharing their intellectual property, but small companies could also play a strategic roles in creating these new, more sustainable systems, and it’s its not all about open IP.