Green Patents and Technological Innovation

“Go green” is a common expression to refer to the use of eco-friendly products. The basic idea of this expression is to encourage companies and consumers to conserve and protect the environment by changing their current practices or applying new ones that conserve natural resources, reduce waste, protect ecosystems and improve the quality of the air and water. Following this trend, there are many organizations working on developing this culture to protect the Earth against the assaults of the economic growth. To reach their green goals, some companies must implement cutting-edge technologies.

The innovation and development of these technologies is due in large part to patents and the benefits that they confer. Indeed, some believe that “[p]atents … are the unsung heroes of the renewable energy revolution.” As Dolf Gielen, director of International Renewable Energy Agency— Innovation and Technology Center in Bonn, Germany explained, “Patents are the ‘who’s who’ of renewable energy innovation. They tell you who is developing what, where, and which countries and companies are leading the charge in which technology.” Some governments have even considered creating special patent application procedures, called “green patent fast track programs,” to stimulate green innovation.

Together with the patentability of clean technologies come the complaints. Many patent infringement lawsuits regarding green technology have been filed in the recent months– in particular, against automakers that need to keep submitting patents on innovative technologies and designs to compete in the market.

Patent litigation related to hybrid cars

Paice is a leader in hybrid technology. An independent study of 58,000 hybrid vehicle patents placed Paice’s inventions as the most important in the industry. An independent analysis in 2010 showed that Paice owned four of the Top 10 hybrid patents in the world — more than Toyota and Ford combined.

In order to protect their inventions, Paice has filed patent infringement lawsuits against some important automobile manufacturers. It has successfully sued and settled with Toyota Motors Corp.; has defeated Hyundai Motor Co. $28.9M on a hybrid technology patent infringement case; and is currently litigating against Ford Motor Co.

Regarding the Hyundai case, on February 2012, Paice sued Hyundai Motors and Kia Motors in the District Court for the District of Maryland alleging the infringement of three of their patents named “Hybrid vehicles.” Later, on March 2013, the District Court determined that Paice had “developed ‘innovative hybrid electric technology’ to promote fuel efficiency, lower emissions, and ‘superior driving performance.’” The court noted, “given the frequent and detailed communications between Paice and [Hyundai and Kia], which spanned five years [], a reasonable inference can be drawn that [Hyundai and Kia] were aware that the patents in suit existed.” As a result, the defendants’ motion to dismiss was denied. Most recently, a Baltimore jury found in Paice’s favor, returning a verdict of $28.9M against Hyundai and Kia. According to Paice’s press release, “The verdict essentially represents a payment of $200 for each infringing hybrid vehicle sold by Hyundai and Kia at issue in the case through June 30, 2015.”

Recent “green” scandals

The “going green” movement is beneficial both for the environment and automakers using innovative technologies to satisfy the consumers’ growing preferences to make “eco-friendly” decisions. Unfortunately, companies have been known to fake the “green” — a practice called “greenwashing”. Greenpeace defines this term as “the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.”

Recently, Volkswagen was involved in an emission scandal that has been widely investigated. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) founddefeat devices” in many Volkswagen cars. The illicit emissions software in diesel engines were able to detect when the cars were tested and changed their performance to get better results. The EPA has notified Volkswagen twice regarding the violation of the Clean Air Act. The State of California is working together with EPA on this case and has initiated its own investigation.

In its lasts communications regarding the emission scandal, Volkswagen’s chief executive, Mr. Matthias Müller, stated, “We are not going to make the mistake of economizing on our future.” He added that Volkswagen would increase its investments in innovative technologies such as electric cars by one hundred million Euros. Meanwhile, the company attempts to fix their reputation among drivers. Patents will support the investment in new technologies to reach their green goals, real or otherwise. As the energy leader Philip Totaro states, “Patents are the codification of innovation and they represent the investment of time and effort from the innovative and creative people who have their names on them.” They may well be the unrecognized heroes of the green energy revolution.