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Patents, Pills and Photovoltaics: A Comparative Assessment of Technology Transfer Regimes in Clean Tech and Pharma

Development
Technology
Energy
Silvia Weko
Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS)
Andreas Goldthau
Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, Universität Erfurt
Silvia Weko
Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS)

Abstract

The last years have seen a flurry of initiatives to facilitate technology transfer and investment in the low carbon domain. These efforts come against the backdrop of long-standing demands from developing nations in the COP context, pointing to the crucial importance of access to cutting edge technology for sustainable economic development. They also reflect the fact that low carbon energy and technology investment remains skewed towards OECD nations and the ‘Big Three’ of China, India and Brazil. As recent data suggest, developing nations other than the Big Three received a mere ten percent of all clean energy investment flows in 2017. This pattern of uneven development and disagreements between developed and developing countries over technology access calls to mind the struggles over governance of the pharmaceutical industry, where developing countries asserted their rights within the TRIPS framework to override patents for public health in a national emergency in the Doha Agreement. Against this backdrop, the paper makes three contributions. First, it maps global efforts regarding clean energy technology transfer and offers a typology of the different regimes underpinning existing initiatives and partnerships. Second, it compares and contrasts these regimes with those for pharmaceuticals, a sector that arguably shares similar characteristics such as high capital intensity, the importance of intellectual property rights, and the importance for human development and well-being. Third, the paper offers tentative conclusions on the effectiveness and ‘blind spots’ of the emerging low carbon technology transfer regime.