The history of Earth Day traces back to 1970 when then United States Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI) came up with the idea. He had long sought a way to inspire people to become more environmentally conscious, and after reading about anti-Vietnam War “teach-ins” on college campuses he was inspired to start a nationwide teach-in on the environment. Senator Nelson wrote letters to all 50 governors and mayors of the larges U.S. cities asking them to issue Earth Day proclamations. He also wrote to college newspapers across the country. His efforts worked and an estimated 20 million people participated in various education activities on April 22, 1970.
In 2009 the United Nations unanimously adopted a resolution designating April 22 each yeas as International Mother Earth Day. The resolution, spearheaded by the Bolivian Government and supported by over 50 Member States, noted that Earth Day was already observed each year on 22 April in many countries. Today Earth Day is celebrated globally in more than 175 countries every year.
This year at IPWatchdog.com we have decided to not just celebrate Earth Day, but rather to celebrate all week. We will have a variety of articles that focus on innovations and technologies that make a cleaner, greener planet a reality. The technological advances we will celebrate come from independent inventors, large multi-national corporations such as General Electric, and exciting basic scientific advances made by U.S. universities and licensed out to small businesses for development.
Why Celebrate Green Technologies?
Before going into what we will be doing this week it is probably worthwhile to spend a moment explaining why we are doing this. It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with IPWatchdog.com, but I am a true believer in the patent system. The patent system was created by our Founding Fathers and specifically authorized in the U.S. Constitution. None other than President George Washington was a champion of the patent system, practically begging Congress to adopt a Patent Act with all due haste during his first State of the Union address. The patent system promotes innovation, a fact that is hardly in question or doubted by anyone who objectively looks at the evidence. In the words of President Abraham Lincoln, the patent system “added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius.” It exists as an incentive to invest in research and development and ultimately commercialize for the benefit of society. More importantly, however, the incentive is so strong that innovators disclose rather than keep secrets, thus allowing others to build on the shoulders of those who have come before.
Unfortunately, there are those who would like to radically change the patent system. Indeed, many critics of the patent system would like to do away with it altogether. They complain about patent litigation as if the litigation we experience today is somehow unusual. In fact, the level of litigation in the high-tech sector is unusual — unusually low compared to times when other patent thickets existed. But the opponents of the patent system won’t let facts, or history, sway them from their clearly erroneous view of the world.
What does this have to do with Earth Day? Everything! So often the popular debate about patents focuses on smart phones, computers, software and now gene patents. The truth is that as important as these areas are to innovation and the modern economy, they are but a small fraction of the innovation we see in the U.S. and around the globe. There is constant research, development, patenting and commercial exploitation for good with respect to a whole host of technologies that can only be characterized as leading to a better world — and that includes technologies that lead to a cleaner, greener, more sustainable planet Earth.
So the next time that you hear someone complain about the patent system run amok or being broken please realize that if we do away with the patent system, or curtail its incentive structure, we will be making it all the less likely that the paradigm shifting environmental technologies we want and need will be discovered and brought to market.
Let’s face it, squeezing more energy from the suns rays is not an easy challenge otherwise we would have done it already. Capturing power from the winds isn’t the silver bullet solution and many more advances need to take place. Geothermal energy solutions are promising, but a long way away from scalable reality. Growing food in a sustainable, affordable manner without the use of harsh and dangerous chemicals presents extraordinary challenges. Resorting ecosystems where there are disasters is a long, slow process. All of this costs money, takes time and requires there to be profit potential if they will be commercialized on a broad scale. Without widespread adoption those who are committed and live a good, clean life with minimum negative footprint can only do so much. Thus, the patent system will play a big role in getting from where we are today to where we want to be.
So to all those who prefer to pretend that the patent system only gets in the way of innovation, this week is for you. Highlighting the reality that the patent system promotes this kind of innovation and disclosure simply won’t fit into the narrative of patents being evil. Whether it is life saving drugs, patent for humanity or technologies for a better, healthier planet, the patent system promotes innovation and provides the necessary capital to bring dreams into reality.
Our Focus for Earth Day 2013
On Monday, April 22, 2013, Joe Allen will lead off our Earth Day focus with discussion of university technologies. Whenever we in the innovation industry think of Bayh-Dole, we typically jump to life sciences as the case study for the success of this landmark legislation. But did you know that the lithium ion battery was pioneered at the University of Texas? Universities all across the country are increasingly focusing research efforts on truly clean, green technologies. Whether it be technologies that restore polluted areas, technologies to prevent pollution, innovations that reduce power needs, or environmentally friendly means to grow food or eradicate pests.
This week I will also profile some of the recent winners of the IPO Educational Foundation Inventor of the Year Award. Those in the industry know that the IPO Inventor of the Year Award is one of the most anticipated and well attended events of the year. Akin to an “innovation prom,” it is an unapologetic celebration of innovation. Not surprisingly, over the past 10 years the IPO has recognized a number of ground-breaking green technologies, which is emblematic of the growing importance, interest and focus the top innovators in the world place on environmentally friendly innovations that will lead to a better, cleaner planet.
On Tuesday, April 23, 2013, we will focus on solar power, taking a look at a handful of recently published U.S. patent applications and issued patents. While solar power is a long way away from being the solution that the general public thinks it is, or wants it to be, without incremental advance we will never arrive where we all want to be. Sun energy is extraordinarily clean and environmentally friendly. There are obstacles associated with the sun not shinning on cloudy days, and the far more technically challenging obstacles relating to extracting meaningful amounts of power from the sun via various collection devices. Of course, it is really impossible to discuss solar power without also mentioning the challenge associated with energy storage, which in my opinion may be the next big paradigm shifting innovation. At least I hope it is because it will open a lot of doors. So look for a profile of battery technologies as well.
On Wednesday, April 24, 2013, we will focus on recycling technologies, again with a snapshot look at some of the more cool innovations published in the form of U.S. patent application publications over the last month or so.
Later in the week we will also be profiling some of the environmental technologies of General Electric, a company known for many things. For environmental innovators GE is particularly well known for wind energy technologies. We will also profile hybrid automobile technologies from the big 3 U.S. automakers.
If you or a client has an interesting green or environmental technology let us know! Of course, please also check out the green innovations we profiled for Earth Day 2012.
Happy Earth Day 2013!