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16 May 2013
A new study by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the European Patent Office (EPO) -Patents and Clean Energy Technologies in Africa- found that Africa has a huge untapped potential for generating clean energy, including enough hydroelectric power from its seven major river systems to serve the whole of the continent's needs, as well as enormous potential for solar energy, wind energy and geothermal energy.
The study was presented and discussed at a two-day workshop in Nairobi/Kenya led by the two organisations and titled "The role of the patent system and clean energy technologies in Africa", which was attended by experts and policy makers from African countries and international organisations, among them the chair of the African Group of Negotiators at the UNFCCC, the EU/African Chamber of Commerce and ARIPO.
It showed that patents can not be considered as a barrier to the access to CETs in Africa. On the contrary, the lack of these patents to protect their products also means that source companies may be reluctant to offer up their know-how to promote technology transfer.
"The development and transfer of technologies are key pillars in both mitigating the causes of climate change and adapting to its effects; patents are a crucial part of this process," said Robert Ondhowe, Legal Officer at UNEP. "In addition to an accelerated response to climate change, boosting clean energy technologies has multiple green economy benefits, including on public health: In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, more than half of all deaths from pneumonia in children under the age of five, and chronic lung disease and lung cancer in adults over 30, can be attributed to solid fuel use," he added.
The report also found that despite low patent application numbers in Africa, the overall inventive activity for CET grew by five per cent between 1980 and 2009, compared to 4 per cent at global level. With a 59 per cent increase, mitigation technologies grew most significantly in that period. "The joint EPO-UNEP study is the first-ever representative stock taking of clean energy technology patents in African countries," said EPO Chief Economist Nikolaus Thumm. "Its main purpose is to facilitate an evidence-based informed debate on the role of patents in the dissemination of clean energy technologies in Africa, and to promote identification of existing technology solutions in the field for technology transfer to the continent."
Moreover, most African nations are fairly well integrated into the international patent system and an increasing number are putting in place specific patenting policies and strategies, which give significant importance on technology transfer as part of their development framework. It will be important to ensure the granting of only high-quality patents in Africa, ensuring that patents are only granted for valid inventions, and the undeserving ones refused.