Intellectual Property Policies for Solar Geoengineering

Jesse L. Reynolds, Utrecht Centre for Water, Oceans and Sustainability Law, Utrecht University School of Law
Jorge L. Contreras, S.J. Quinney College of Law, University of Utah
Joshua D. Sarnoff, DePaul University College of Law


Governance of solar geoengineering is important and challenging, with particular concern arising from commercial actors’ involvement. Policies relating to intellectual property, including patents and trade secrets, and to data access will shape private actors’ behavior and regulate access to data and technologies. There has been little careful consideration of the possible roles of and interrelationships among commercial actors, intellectual property, and intellectual property policy. Despite the current low level of commercial activity and intellectual property rights in this domain, we expect both to grow as research and development continue. Given the public good nature of solar geoengineering, the relationship between the public and private sectors would likely assume a procurement structure. Innovative policy approaches to intellectual property and data access that are specific to solar geoengineering are warranted. These current circumstances also present opportunities for the development of policy and norms that might soon be lost. We consider some possible approaches, and recommend a bottom-up, primarily nonstate, voluntary “research commons” for patents and data that are related to solar geoengineering. This would facilitate information sharing and limit data fragmentation and trade secrecy. It would also provide an incentive for commons members to pledge to limit some forms of intellectual property acquisition and to assure access on reasonable terms, thereby limiting the need for enforcement. This should help reduce downstream barriers to innovation and to encourage the potential development of technologies at reasonable cost. Such a research commons might also catalyze the adoption of best practices in research and development.