The EPO first examined the link between patents and clean energy during its scenario-building exercise. As early as 2006, the issue was considered to have the potential to radically reshape global IP architecture and was listed as a major driving force in the "blue skies" scenario.
Following the publication of the Scenarios for the future in 2007, the topic was taken up again at the European Patent Forum 2008 in Ljubljana. The event was the first ever international conference on climate technologies and patenting, and attempted to answer the question "How can patenting and intellectual property support innovation that benefits the environment and counteracts climate change?"
In April of the following year, the EPO signed an agreement with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) to work on a joint study on "the role of patents in the development, dissemination and transfer of technologies for addressing climate change". The OECD then carried out a statistical analysis on climate change related data identified by EPO patent examiners. At the same time, a survey was carried out on the EPO's behalf to examine licensing practices and trends.
The EPO acquired formal Observer Status at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) in Copenhagen in December 2009, where the preliminary findings from the study were presented, entitled "Patents and clean energy: bridging the gap between evidence and policy".
The EPO together with UNEP have produced a follow-up report, again with the support of OECD's statistical analysis capabilities, entitled "Patents and clean energy technologies in Africa". This focuses on one of the recommendations of the first report and captures the patent landscape for clean energy technologies in one area of the developing world which could greatly benefit from use and technology transfer of such clean energy technologies, namely Africa.
The Office has also developed a new "Y02" classification scheme, dedicated to climate change mitigation technologies, which enables a continuous and reliable flow of data on selected technologies and their application in the energy field. Originally incorporating Y02E for Energy, and Y02C for Capture of greenhouse gases, this has been expanded in 2012 to include Y02B for climate change mitigation technology relating to Buildings, Y02T relating to Transport, and Y04S relating to an area referred to as "Smart grids".
Using the features of the patent system to produce structural transparency regarding climate change mitigation technologies, the EPO is delivering a significant contribution in the fight against climate change and sending a strong signal that the Office is ready to assume broader responsibility in a societal context.