By Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr./ June 24, 2009
In a meeting with the Detroit Free Press last October, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama said, "China has consistently stolen our intellectual property. It has not abided by basic copyright protections." Let's hope the president reminds the U.S. climate change team of those words before negotiations on a global treaty conclude in Copenhagen, Denmark, this December.
I recently traveled to China with several members of Congress, including the Speaker of the House. There I stressed to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao the importance of intellectual property rights as part of a climate change treaty. I got lip service, but no guarantees.
China has been a repeat offender when it comes to protecting intellectual property rights. The U.S. Trade Representative reported to Congress in December that "counterfeiting and piracy remain at unacceptably high levels and continue to cause serious harm to U.S. businesses across many sectors of the economy."
"China has continued to demonstrate little success in actually enforcing its laws and regulations in the face of the challenges created by widespread counterfeiting, piracy and other forms of infringement," the trade representative's report said.
Now that international climate treaty negotiations are gaining momentum, China is leading the assault on the patent protections that are central in promoting the ingenuity, innovation and creativity that drive the economies of America and other developed countries.
China, along with other developing countries in the so-called "Group of 77," wants the U.N. to establish an "Executive Body of Technology" that would be governed by many of these same countries. This executive body would determine "technology-related financial requirements" and "ensure that privately owned technologies are available on an affordable basis, including thorough measures to resolve the barriers posed by [intellectual property rights] and addressing compulsory licensing of patented technologies."
Put simply, China and the developing nations seek to transfer the developed world's clean energy technology to an unelected U.N. body, which they would control. Additionally, this executive board would also establish a "Multilateral Climate Technology Fund" that would buy these technologies for the developing world. Who contributes to the fund? The U.S., the European Union nations and other developed countries like Japan.
How much does China say the U.S. and other developed countries owe to this fund? Up to 1% of each country's gross domestic product. This amounts to more than $140 billion a year for the U.S., which is nearly six times what we currently give in foreign aid.
China's demands for funding and free technology will have far-reaching ramifications for both the U.S.' and other developed countries' technology sectors, such as threatening the innovation required to develop and deploy affordable clean energy technologies.
This month in Wisconsin, my home state, researchers announced a successful test of promising technology that will be vital for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Alston Power, working with We Energies and the Electric Power Research Institute, was able to capture nearly 90% of the carbon dioxide emissions at the Pleasant Prairie facility. The project captured carbon dioxide at a level of at lest 99% purity, allowing the widest possible use of this captured gas.
Successful capture of carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants is crucial for greenhouse gas reduction. Coal generates 50% of the U.S.' electricity and nearly 90% of China's. Without a means to cleanly use coal, greenhouse gas emission reduction goals are nothing but a pipe dream.
But China's demands for weakened patent protections and free technology threaten to undermine these research efforts. After all, why would these companies devote the time and effort to develop this technology when they would be required to give it away to the Chinese and others for free?
Patent protections are vital to the future of the U.S. clean energy industries, and their ability to compete in what the International Energy Agency has projected to be a nearly $300 trillion market for energy technologies over the next 40 years.
The news from China on patent protection is not completely gloomy because China is slowly awakening to the importance of intellectual property. Between 2006 and 2008, China had the largest number of original patent filings for wind, solar and marine energy technology, followed by Japan, the U.S. and Germany.
However, China has a long way to go and must square what it is espousing domestically with what its U.N. climate negotiators say internationally.
The U.S. must take a strong stand for intellectual property rights in the U.N. climate negotiations. President Obama should remember his previous admonition and instruct his negotiators accordingly.
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., the ranking Republican on the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, has closely followed climate change negotiations for more than a decade. He was the only member of the House of Representatives to attend the U.N.'s climate change conference in Poznan, Poland, in December 2008, and in 1997 he led the congressional delegation to the Kyoto, Japan, negotiations, where he was chairman of the House Science Committee.
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