Intellectual property rights and disputes are among the most complicated conflicts for environmental and green technology businesses.
For instance, electric grid technology connects people all over the world with power. These grids utilize power generated from energy sources and deliver electrical power to the network of connected consumers. As these systems continue to improve, they use increasingly sophisticated and technical solutions, which intellectual property rights can protect.
The natural element of electric grid technology
In general, parties cannot patent or own the rights for the law of nature and natural phenomenon or copyright natural images. That said, sectors that utilize natural elements can still benefit significantly from securing intellectual property rights with copyrights, trademarks, patents and trade secrets.
In the context of the electrical grid, businesses and producers would not be able to trademark the weather patterns or patent water. However, they can protect countless products or services that use:
- Solar power
- Geothermal energy
Electrical grid technology uses these elements. However, in terms of intellectual property, it is not the energy source that people are trying to protect ownership of. Instead, entities in this sector may seek intellectual property rights for:
- Energy meters and other instrumentation
- Solar panels
- Turbine technology
- Computer systems and software
- Informational documents and deliverables regarding their services and products
- Recovery plans
- Grid-connecting equipment
- Storage systems
These components can reflect novel solutions, proprietary data and expertise that delivers great value to a business. And protecting them with the appropriate IP strategy, be it a patent or trade secret, is vital in preserving that value now and in the future.
Complications to consider
A number of issues can arise for electric grid businesses when it comes to intellectual property. After all, they are continuously driving to expand access and improve stability, as well as aiming to cut costs and increase profits, like any other business. These efforts can create or coincide with unavoidable IP ownership issues.
For example, there is ongoing debate regarding IP protections for clean energy solutions, as these technologies are essential in alleviating the impact of global climate change.
On the one hand, supporters say incentivizing IP in these sectors drives innovation. On the other hand, critics argue that technologies that offer or improve clean energy offerings serve a greater good and, therefore, should not be subject to the limitations created by ownership.
Of course, this is a highly simplified breakdown of this complicated issue. But even at a high level, it shows that there is considerable conflict at the crossroads of IP and electrical grid technology from both political and commercial perspectives.
What is at stake?
There can be a great deal at stake when it comes to protecting any type of intellectual property.
In terms of electrical grid technology, protecting IP can be essential in preserving a business’s reputation and position in a highly competitive market.
Further, with IP ownership rights comes access to new opportunities. Companies with patented, trademarked, or confidential, proprietary information can partner with entities in other states or countries; they can collect a profit through lucrative licensing agreements; they can expand their business by merging with or acquiring others.
When IP is under attack
The global benefits of and financial incentives for delivering reliable, clean technology have never been higher. And legal disputes and strategic gaps can jeopardize these objectives.
Organizations that are part of grid operations and electric transmission systems can face the same obstacles as any business if their IP rights come under fire. Legal claims involving infringement, licensing or jurisdiction can have a costly, disruptive impact on a business.
As an example, instead of devoting resources to research and design, an organization may need to shift its attention and financial reserves to responding to claims that it used protected work without permission.
Alternatively, a business could wind up losing its standing in the market and profits if it failed to secure ownership rights of a design or take reasonable steps to protect confidential information.
To avoid these potential consequences and disruptions, businesses can prioritize comprehensive IP strategies. These can include registering IP, reviewing licensing agreements and drafting contracts that define and protect valuable creations.
What lies ahead?
Renewable, reliable energy is a hot-button issue. Never before has there been as much interest in creating clean energy solutions for as many people as possible, which means that businesses in these sectors can expect there to be increased interest in their offerings and practices.
The future of this industry may well depend on how we navigate the crossroads of IP and electrical grid technology in terms of the standards we create, the policies that governments put in place and the precedents set in the courtroom.
In terms of individual businesses, taking steps to protect intellectual property today can be essential in ensuring long-term success in an uncertain future.