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December 30, 2009

US Patent and Trademark Office Launches Program to Speed Patent Applications in Green Technologies
    by Robert Kropp

The program is designed to encourage the development of alternative energy businesses in the US. -- While the inability to come to a binding agreement in Copenhagen was surely a disappointment for many, a global commitment to a transition to a low-carbon economy does by now seem inevitable. Inevitable as well will be international competition to bring to market the technologies that, primarily through private investment, will drive the new economy.

There are already troubling indicators that the United States is falling behind in the race to contribute key technologies to the low-carbon economy. A re port issued this month by the Apollo Alliance stated that “China, Japan and South Korea are poised to out‐compete the United States for dominance of clean energy markets.”

In announcing a new program by the US Commerce Department’s Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), which would accelerate the examination of green technology patent applications, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said, “Today, the top 5 Internet technology companies in the world are based right here in the US. But of the top 30 alternative energy companies in the world, only 1 in 5 are American.”

The USPTO’s pilot program will accord special status to patent applications in green technologies by expediting their examination, thereby enabling inventors “to secure funding, create businesses, and bring vital green technologies into use much sooner,” according to the USPTO.

Secretary Locke said, “Right now, there are about 25,000 patent applications that would be eligible to be considered under the pilot program.” While the pilot program is limited to the examination of 3,000 of the most promising applications, it is likely to be expanded should it prove to be successful.

According to Secretary Locke, the patent applications that will be prioritized include those that enhance environmental quality and more efficient utilization and conservation of energy resources, discover or develop renewable energy resources, and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

“In the next few years, some entrepreneur or some innovator in Europe, China or America is going to revolutionize a new light-weight battery for automobiles, a safe and affordable way to capture carbon from coal plants, or a cheap and effective way to store power from the wind and sun,” Locke said. “These discoveries will fundamentally change the way the world uses energy.”

Venture capitalists, as well as investors whose portfolios contain a commitment to sustainability, are likely to welcome the opportunities that could result, if the USPTO’s program leads to a more timely commercialization of green technologies in the US.

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