World IP Day 2020: Environmental Opportunities from the Covid-19 Pandemic

World Intellectual Property Day is celebrated on the 26th April each year.  It aims to encourage awareness, learning and understanding of how intellectual property rights impact daily life, as well as the role they play in creativity, innovation and the development of societies around the world.

The theme for 2020 is “Innovate for a Green Future”.



At the time of writing, the entire world is living through a time, the impact of which has not been seen for many decades.  The current Covid-19 pandemic has changed the lives of everyone on Earth, in ways that affect us all socially, economically, culturally, educationally and environmentally.


Potential Positive Environmental Impacts of Lockdown

Lockdowns of varying restrictions and periods have been and are in force around the world, with the movements and activities of people and businesses severely impacted.  The measurable effect on the environment has been noticeable and rapid.

Data from the European and US Space Agencies have shown significant declines in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels in cities and other industrialised areas around the world.  NO2 is a major environmental pollutant and respiratory irritant, in addition to the role it plays in greenhouse gas (ozone) formation.

In a more localised example, Venice (Italy) has seen a reduction in visitor numbers and dramatic decrease in traffic on the city’s canals.  This has led to less pollution and the opportunity for the sediment in the water to settle, resulting in much clearer waterways.

We should not, however, be drawn into a false sense of security that the damage to the environment caused by human activity over the years has been rectified in just a few weeks or months.  Rather, what we are seeing is an indication of what might be achieved if the world chooses to recover from the current pandemic by following a new path in terms of how we interact with our planet.


An Opportunity for a New Direction

We have the opportunity to recover and rebuild by taking a new direction with a stronger focus on a suite of green initiatives, including:

  • Preparing and Adapting for the Impacts of Climate Change: climate change is happening and it is likely that anything we do will only mitigate its effects. It is therefore important that we invest in technology, infrastructure and behaviours that prepare us for the challenges that are likely come, such as: rising sea levels; extreme weather; food and water security; migration of humans, animals and plants; and an increased risk of future disease epidemics
  • Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions: investing further in energy generation from renewable and other low-carbon sources; pursuing electrification of transport systems, which preferentially use the electricity from renewable sources; and modifying our agricultural practices
  • Reducing Wastage: changing our production and consumption habits, as well as investing in smart infrastructure to optimise our use of available and finite resources
  • Restoring the Health, Diversity and Vitality of Our Ecosystems and Natural Processes: proactively supporting the planet, it’s climate, and our food supply, through more sympathetic management of protected areas, reducing deforestation and the use of deforestation-dependent products, as well as restoring the natural environment


The Role of Intellectual Property in Supporting Green Innovation

Patents and other IP rights play a key role in encouraging investment and innovation.  By ensuring endeavours are sustainable and the knowledge generated is shared for future use and development, intellectual property provides stakeholders (individuals, companies, external collaborators and others) with a level of security to develop, grow and scale their inventions and innovations.

As technologies continue to advance and costs fall, financing of renewable energy technologies has increased around the world in recent years.  As of 2019, financing for solar, wind, hydro and geothermal power greatly exceeded new financing for coal and gas-derived power, and this trend is expected to continue.

Analysis of patent filings, however, has suggested a slow-down, and in some cases a decline, in the last few years in patenting activity around alternative energy production and conservation technologies, as well as green transportation.

It will be important to continue to support green innovation as the world recovers from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The World Intellectual Property Organisation already manages WIPO GREEN.  Launched in 2013, it is an online platform for green technology and IP exchange.  The platform connects and enables green innovation by bringing together technology owners and developers with those looking to commercialise, license and distribute green technologies.

Other economic stimuli might include programmes that favour or prioritise investments in clean energy.  Business assistance packages or bailouts could be conditional upon emissions cuts or other measures focussed on greener technologies, the mitigation of climate change and the future-proofing of our place in the world.

Alistair Curson



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