Fast Track Program for Green Tech Patents Gets Snubbed

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Photo via Steve Snodgrass via Flickr Creative Commons

Back in December we learned that green tech companies were receiving a fast track through the US patent process in order to boost innovation among start-ups and innovators. The first 3,000 applicants would sail through the process in just 12 months, as opposed to 40 months. We asked if zipping through the patent process would really move green tech forward. Turns out, it doesn't. The fast track program is already off course for filling up the 3,000 slots. According to Martin LaMonica at CNET, the trial program has only had 1,477 patent petitions since December. When over 25,000 patents would have qualified for the fast track process, what gives?

No one really knows for sure -- it's just simply not as booming as it was thought it would be. One possibility is that it's relatively expensive to go through the patent process, and green tech companies are struggling as it is. Also, not a high number of the applicants actually meet the qualifications, let alone even need patents for what they're doing -- much of what's happening in clean tech is based on innovations that have already been patented. In May, the organization loosened the requirements for participating in the program, requiring "green tech" to fit into just four very loose categories -- renewable energy, technology to improve environmental quality, energy conservation, or greenhouse gas reduction. But even that hasn't boosted participation much. Even though the US patent office would like to see more participation and expand the program, it doesn't seem to be as vibrant as they thought it would be right off the bat.

That doesn't necessarily mean that innovation in green tech has slowed, or that companies aren't applying for patents in general. It just means that few are going the short cut route. And the reason why just simply isn't 100% clear.

As Mark Bünger, a research director at Lux Research Inc put it in an article by Scientific American in May, "'I wouldn't oversell the importance of the green patent fast track.' The technologies that companies are trying to patent as green are typically only a small part of a larger process or project that may cut fossil fuel consumption or otherwise help the environment, he says, adding, 'there will never be something like a killer app in clean technology' that stands completely on its own."

In other words, maybe the lack of activity for the fast track program just illustrates that it's more about what we do with existing technology than about coming up with something brand new.

Whether or not the program will be expanded as hoped is still unclear, though it doesn't look promising, or necessary.

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