A Better Approach to Intellectual Property?: Lessons from the US-China Clean Energy Research Center

June 1, 2015 Joanna I. Lewis

Written by Joanna I. Lewis, an associate professor of Science, Technology and International Affairs at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and recently the author of the award-winning book Green Innovation in China: China’s Wind Power Industry and the Global Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy, the paper makes a case for why the jointly funded US-China Clean Energy Research Center, or CERC, may be a useful model in addressing the thorny issue of intellectual property (IP) protection in the area of R&D and potential technology transfers.

As the United States and China have become important developers and deployers of clean energy, over the last six years, according to Lewis, bilateral collaboration in this realm has been a notable bright spot amid intensifying competition and tension between the two countries. Consequently, in November 2009, Washington and Beijing signed several agreements that included the launch of the CERC in an effort to facilitate joint R&D on clean energy technology in areas such as batteries, clean coal, and building efficiency.

Yet despite a growing record of collaboration, it is hard to see it reaching full potential unless the two countries can navigate the pivotal problem of protecting IP. Concerns over the sharing of IP have been frequently identified as a real and serious barrier to more tangible and fruitful collaborations. While joint R&D can provide a number of direct benefits to firms, it can also impose significant costs. In the clean energy area, these can range from honest misunderstandings to blatant IP theft.

But the author argues that a potentially promising and creative solution to these IP issues may lie within the CERC. The CERC, for instance, has already pioneered some novel ways of managing jointly developed IP. Lewis argues that it is worth exploring whether such a model can be adapted more widely to achieve better and sensible protection of IP while buttressing collaboration in clean tech R&D between the two countries.

About the Author

Joanna I. Lewis

Associate Professor of Science, Technology and International Affairs, Georgetown University Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service

author

Joanna Lewis is an associate professor of Science, Technology and International Affairs (STIA) at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. Her research focuses on energy, environment and innovation in China, including renewable energy industry development and climate change policy. She is currently leading a National Science Foundation-funded project on International Partnerships and Technological Leapfrogging in China’s Clean Energy Sector. Her recent book, Green Innovation in China: China’s Wind Power Industry and the Global Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy, was awarded the 2014 Harold and Margaret Sprout Award by the International Studies Association for best book of the year in environmental studies.Dr. Lewis is currently a non-resident faculty affiliate with the China Energy Group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. She also serves as an international adviser to the Energy Foundation China Sustainable Energy Program in Beijing, and is a Lead Author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report. She was a member of the National Academies Committee on US-China Cooperation on Electricity from Renewables and has consulted for many domestic and international organizations including UNIDO and USAID. She serves on the Advisory Boards of the Asia Society’s Center on US-China Relations and the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE)’s US-China Program. Dr. Lewis was awarded a fellowship at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars from 2011-2012, and was a National Committee on US-China Relations Public Intellectuals Program Fellow from 2011-2013.