By Rebekah Gay, Emma Iles, Andrew Wells, Natasha Daniell, Catherine Chan

Filings – the current landscape

IP Australia has recently released its patent analysis of low emission technologies (LET), based on patent filings for the period 2015 – 2020 (see report here). The data serves to ‘identify holdings of specific expertise, helping to analyse the potential for further specialisation and investment in the future’.

Patent filings between 2015 and 2018 trended upwards for all areas of LET that were under analysis (carbon capture and storage, grid energy storage, solar photovoltaic technology, soil carbon measurements and low emission steel, aluminium and iron ore).

Globally, over 50,000 applications were filed since 2015 for carbon capture and storage, grid energy storage and solar photovoltaic technology respectively. This aligns with what can be seen commercially, with large-scale projects that will use these types of technology emerging. For example, Exxonmobil is currently evaluating the potential for a carbon capture and storage hub in south-east Australia. The project would be capable of capturing 2 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year beginning in 2025. And in June of this year, it was announced that Edify Energy had secured financing for a 150MW/300MWh battery energy storage system in south-west NSW.

Of all those applying for patents in LET, applicants from China were consistently the top filers globally across all LET fields. Sungrow (headquartered in China), who was one of the top applicants for solar photovoltaic inverter patent filings, recently received the green light for a solar farm in Derby, Victoria. Construction is set to start early next year and is projected to power 25,000 households per year once established.

LET patent filing trends have also recently been analysed by the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) in its 2021-2 innovation and growth report (see report here). The report revealed that carbon capture and storage patenting activity worldwide has more than doubled over the last decade. Australia was regarded as the most specialised country with respect to carbon capture and storage technologies, meaning it files more patents in the field than would be expected given absolute levels of filing in the country.

With governments and private businesses around the globe gunning for a net zero future, the increase in innovation demonstrated by these patent filing trends is unsurprising. It is also in line with the trends we recently reported on with respect to hydrogen technologies (see article here).

Funding – future proofing LET

Innovation in the LET sphere is also being prioritised through government funding and strategic partnerships:

  • Earlier this month, the CSIRO (Australia’s national science agency) announced that an initial $90 million would be invested in its new Towards Net Zero Mission. The initiative seeks to bring together ‘research, industry, government, and communities to help Australia’s hardest to abate sector halve their emissions by 2035’.
  • Governments have also entered into bilateral agreements with one another in a bid to make LET more scalable and commercially viable. These partnerships often entail the co-funding of LET research and demonstration projects, and purport to drive down the cost of LET in order for it to be competitive with higher emitting alternatives. Australia has recently entered into such partnerships with India, Germany, Singapore, Japan, the Republic Korea and the United Kingdom.

What next?

The monitoring of patent filings (and analysis of IP rights more generally) is important in capturing an understanding of innovation in the market, and can also assist to identify opportunities for R&D, licensing or M&A investment. This has been recognised by the UK IPO, who has flagged further analysis with respect to green technologies (including analysis of other IP rights such as trade marks). The translation of these new technologies into commercial outcomes with an impact on the ability to reach net zero is only just beginning. But the level of innovation, coupled with both private and public initiatives to support the creation and dissemination of these technologies, certainly looks promising.

Key contacts

Rebekah Gay
Rebekah Gay
Partner, Sydney
+61 2 9225 5242
Emma Iles
Emma Iles
Partner, Melbourne
+61 3 9288 1625
Andrew Wells
Andrew Wells
Partner, London
+44 20 7466 2929
Natasha Daniell
Natasha Daniell
Associate, London
+44 20 7466 2697
Catherine Chan
Catherine Chan
Solicitor, Brisbane
+61 7 3258 6413