Home / Chapter 3 - Algae Biofuels Intellectual Property Issues

Chapter 3 - Algae Biofuels Intellectual Property Issues

The Race Is On

The production of fuel from algae utilizes a variety of technologies, few of which have been widely adopted commercially for algae biofuels production.  Various approaches to ponds and contained growth systems, photosynthesis and dark fermentation, genetic modification of algae, optimization methodologies related to light, water, carbon dioxide, harvesting, and techniques to remove water and extract oil for algae fuels are in the process of being developed and perfected.  For each approach, different mechanisms, methodologies, and processes are being developed and promoted.  Some of the available technologies and products have been used only in pilot projects while others are in the process of commercialization.  In addition, some strains or combinations of strains of algae are “proprietary” and subject to licensing requirements.

In effect, there is a race to the marketplace.  Numerous inventors and companies are pursuing technologies to economically develop algae fuels.  The potential environmental benefits and high productivity of algae biofuels, compared to crop-based biofuels, have helped to attract major investments from angel investors, venture capital firms, and major oil companies.

Each developer of a specific technology or product for the commercialization of algae fuels wants its technology to be successful and to be widely adopted.  And if the technology or product is successful, the developer will want to extract a profit from others’ use of the technology, or in some cases to block others from using the technology.  This is where intellectual property (“IP”) laws apply.  If others can freely copy the developer’s invention or successful product, the developer may reap little benefit from its innovation.  IP laws can be used to prevent this from happening, and some of the most valuable assets of algae fuel companies are likely to be these IP rights. 

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