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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Plextronics CEO: "Today’s clean-tech intellectual property is tomorrow’s oil"

Popcity recently published an Op-Ed by Andy Hannah, CEO of Pittsburgh clean tech startup Plextronics. Hannah just returned from the Middle East, where he was on a trade mission with the US Department of Energy. Following his trip Mr. Hannah wrote about what he thinks the incoming administration needs to do to position the United States as the world leader in the clean technology and renewable energy.

The following are Hannah's steps for success:

  • Collaborate. Participate with other nations, such as the UAE, where the vision is to be the world leader in energy technology.
  • Compete. Establish a competitive platform that “reaches for the moon”. Let’s build a new city that has net zero carbon emissions or overhaul an existing city so that it has net zero carbon emissions. Let’s build a cluster of companies in a city that drives more than half of its economy from the export of energy technology.
  • Use our assets. All of our government properties could convert its energy sources from traditional energies to clean and alternative energy technology.
  • Win. What are the global visionaries expecting to achieve? Let’s double the ante.There are many efforts already in progress across the United States to establish excellence in clean and renewable energy technology.Sometimes they are loosely connected and most times they are independent in their efforts. As a country of ingenuity, invention and determination we need to harness all of those traits and drive a coordinated, nationwide effort to ensure that America’s clean-tech intellectual property is tomorrow’s oil.


Justin said...

Although its hard to argue with his main bullet points (collaborate, compete, use our assets, and win) I'm always cautious when people assume "intellectual property" is the way to achieve these goals. In particular this mentality seems in conflict with the spirit of collaboration and competition.

There are far too many examples of companies using the patent system to inhibit competition and innovation. My biggest concern is that we will lock up the best ideas making this necessary technology unaffordable, especially for developing countries where it is needed most. The market, not the patent office, should reward those with the best ideas and the best execution.

Chris said...

This view of patents as a deterrent to innovation is just plain wrong.

What are the specific "examples" of the patent system inhibiting competition and innovation??

An extensive study by the International Trade Commission last year looked at patenting trends in industrial biotech and found that "a diverse group of firms, large and small, is developing new patented products and processes, and new firms are steadily entering the field ... (T)he data suggest that patents are facilitating, not stifling innovation."

A strong, efficient and reliable IP structure provides the incentive for investment in breakthrough technologies and empowers the transfer of technology (including to developing countries) that true collaboration it built upon. Just being able to take others' inventions freely and use them for your own benefit is not collaboration.

The view that intellectual property is a barrier to innovation never seems to come from the actual innovators like Andy Hannah who have some skin in the game and are taking the risk to change the world.