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Anthropogenic climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing society, and action to address it is hotly debated. The topic is dominating headlines at the moment because of the COP26 conference in Glasgow, which concludes this week. Many observers are watching the outcomes closely. One of the big questions in the fight against climate change is what role will be played by advances in technology, and even entirely new technologies.
In this regard, the UK government announced in November 2020 its ten-point plan for a “Green Industrial Revolution”. This laid out the government’s strategy for investment in greentech areas, with the aim of creating jobs and encouraging private investment to develop key technology areas that could help the UK in reaching its target of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The ten areas identified by the UK government were:
Patents are of course a classic tool for encouraging investment and innovation, and so monitoring the subject matter of new patent filings can be a useful way to track the direction and focus of new and upcoming developments in a sector. Therefore, in connection with the ten-point plan, the UK Intellectual Property Office has this week published a series of seven reports analysing the patent landscape in technology areas relevant to the first nine of the ten points identified above.
Specifically, the reports cover:
Each report considers trends in worldwide patenting activity in each technology area from 2001 to 2018, and which countries and companies contribute most to patent activity in that area. The reports provide a breakdown of sub-areas, a more UK-focussed analysis of patenting activity, and some case studies on specific companies.
The reports also calculate the relative specialisation index (RSI) for the top 10 patenting countries in each area. The RSI for a country shows how the proportion of patent families having an inventor from that country and filed in the technology area compares to the overall proportion of patents in that technology area worldwide. This reflects how focussed innovation in that country is in that technology area relative to other countries, while controlling for differences in the absolute number of patents filed. A positive RSI indicates above-average activity, while a negative RSI indicates below-average activity.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the reports show that worldwide patenting activity in all of the greentech areas analysed has increased significantly since 2001. Many of the areas have had significant accelerations particularly in the last five years. In general, the top countries for patenting activity in absolute terms reflect the top patenting countries generally, in particular China, the US, and Japan. However, the RSI for different countries in the different areas varies significantly.
The UK in general shows a positive RSI in most of the areas analysed, indicating an above-average level of patenting activity in greentech areas compared to the average worldwide. Particular areas of strength for the UK are in offshore wind, nuclear power, and green buildings.
The role that new and developing technologies will play in net zero is still debated, with some areas such as carbon capture still relatively controversial. Nonetheless, other areas such as wind power and greener buildings are sure to play an important role in combating climate change.
These reports provide an interesting insight into the trends in these key technology areas, and the technological ambitions of industry in particular countries. They may provide a useful and informative resource for policy makers, and also for businesses in these technology areas that are considering where to expand or focus their activities.
Article by: Richard Morris | 12 November 2021