Slump in Clean Energy Patents Causes Concern
As of late, the spike of clean energy technology innovation is slowing down in the United States, during a time that the Trump administration is aiming to drastically cut government research spending in the industry.
In fact, according to a recent report by Brookings Institution, the number of patents issued related to cutting carbon emissions increased from 15,970 in 2009 to about 35,000 in 2014 and 2015, before decreasing to 32,000 in 2016. Today’s clean energy technologies like more efficient electrical grids and devices that can store intermittent wind power are still in a very early stage, so private investment alone is not enough.
Generally, patents mean inventiveness and more patents in a space suggests more innovation is happening, which means better market opportunity. From 2001 to 2009, patents were static for clean energy – as patents for energy fields, including solar, wind, energy storage, energy efficiency, and nuclear power issued each year stayed around 15,000, according to the study. Then, in 2010 things climbed for about five years when the growth in patents issued in clean tech fields outpaced patents overall and outpaced high-tech fields including pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and semiconductors.
One key reason for the change was the injection of federal research dollars and Obama administration initiatives to boost research in renewable energy, according to an article in Science Magazine. The Federal Recovery Act pumped $3.3 billion into research and development at the Department of Energy (DOE), including a significant chunk for renewable energy. In fact, research spending through the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy averaged $1 billion per year under Obama, $100 million more annually than under former President George W. Bush.
Paul Morico of Baker Botts LLP sat down with IPWatchdog to discuss why this recent slump in clean energy patents could be cause for concern.
The slump in clean energy patents is a direct result of the downturn in oil and gas prices, according to Morico. “When oil was trading at over $100 per barrel just before the crash in 2014, there was a lot of investment going into renewable/clean energy. After the prices of oil crashed, investors started cutting back their investments in renewable/clean energy because the costs of many of these technologies couldn’t compete with low oil and gas prices,” he explained.
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