US-China research teams agree to promote scientific co-operation through novel plan to share intellectual property

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August 23, 2011 by Trina Wafle, National Research Center for Coal and Energy

Morgantown, W.Va. – A consortium of researchers from the U.S. and China is taking the approach that providing clear and strong intellectual property protection and sharing is the best way to stimulate the creation of new technologies for using energy to power the economy while protecting the environment.

NRCCE hosted the signing of the Technology Managment Plan agreement between the US Advanced Coal Technology Consortium and its counterpart in China. WVU VP of Research and Economic Development Curt Peterson, US ACTC Director and Resource Economics Professor Jerald Fletcher, US DOE CERC Director Robert Marlay, China ACTC Director and HUST Professor Zheng Chuguang, and China ACTC Communications Lead and HUST Professor Tianhua Wu participated in the ceremony.

NRCCE hosted the signing of the Technology Managment Plan agreement between the US Advanced Coal Technology Consortium and its counterpart in China. WVU VP of Research and Economic Development Curt Peterson, US ACTC Director and Resource Economics Professor Jerald Fletcher, US DOE CERC Director Robert Marlay, China ACTC Director and HUST Professor Zheng Chuguang, and China ACTC Communications Lead and HUST Professor Tianhua Wu participated in the ceremony. (Photo by Tracy Novak, NRCCE)

With the stroke of a pen, West Virginia University Professor Jerald J. Fletcher and Huazhong University of Science and Technology Professor Zheng Chuguang affirmed the groundbreaking intellectual property agreement contained in the Technology Management Plan of the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center’s Advanced Coal Technology Consortium (ACTC).

Fletcher is director for the US ACTC, a consortium based at West Virginia University comprised of leading universities, national laboratories, private companies, and non-governmental organizations collaborating on the development of advanced coal technologies. Zheng, Fletcher’s counterpart, directs the Chinese consortium based at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology.

The US-China Clean Energy Research Center was announced in November, 2009 by U.S. President Barack Obama and China President Hu Jintao to promote cooperation in clean vehicles, efficient buildings, and advanced coal technologies. U.S.-China CERC, the world’s largest bilateral clean energy research program, is overseen by the U.S. Department of Energy and China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, National Energy Administration, and Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development.

“This well-crafted and clearly–defined IP protection agreement provides a strong foundation for US-China clean energy cooperation,” said Robert Marlay, director of the CERC at the US DOE.

“The technology management plan flows from the government-to-government Protocol for Cooperation on Clean Energy Research Center, suggesting diplomatic and binding support of the agreement,” he added.

“Together, China and the U.S. account for more than 60 percent of all the coal used on Earth,” said Fletcher. “Together, we can share our brains and our budgets to accelerate the development of advanced coal technologies and enhance environmental protection.”

“We’ve assembled some of the world’s leading organizations to collaborate on these important advanced coal technologies,” said S. Julio Friedmann, of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the technology lead for US ACTC.

“With today’s signing, our consortium members can know that their own intellectual property will be protected. New technologies created by the US-China teams will be shared in a fair and clearly-defined manner,” he said.

The plan provides an overarching framework to protect and share intellectual property. CERC participants will enter traditional commercial contracts to set the terms and to allocate their rights to, and royalties from, any intellectual property that they create, subject to certain terms required by the respective governments.

What is novel about this agreement, however, is that under certain circumstances inventors must negotiate licenses to ensure both countries benefit from their inventions. The inventing entity can set the terms of the license; for example, they can limit the use of the invention or receive royalties, but they are required to negotiate a license in good faith.

The plan also ensures that CERC participants in such negotiations will get a more favorable deal than those not involved in CERC. These license requirements ensure both countries benefit from all CERC innovations, the key goal for the CERC.

The plan does not limit each party’s ability to negotiate alternative arrangements, again subject to certain terms required by the governments. Nor does it override any existing laws which the parties must follow at home or abroad. Also, any pre-existing IP remains protected.

“The Technology Management Plan is so critical to our success that we negotiated it in both English and Chinese,” said Fletcher. “Most agreements are negotiated in one language then translated into another, which can lead to misunderstandings or ambiguity.”

“Collaboration and sharing are key goals of CERC. The only way that can happen is by having an agreement which is clear in both languages and provides strong protection for existing intellectual property and new inventions that result from collaborative process,” said Stacy Baird, of the US-China Clean Energy Forum (CEF), a member of the US ACTC. Baird and Wei Hibbeln of CEF led the negotiations on behalf of the U.S. team.

“If there is a clear, mutual understanding of how IP will be protected, and a conviction that the protections are strong and enforceable, we will enhance the collaborative process and the quality of the partners’ projects,” Baird said.

U.S. and Chinese research teams propose projects to investigate the large-scale capture, use, and storage of carbon dioxide in geological formations and through algae bio-fixation. They also will explore oxy-combustion and integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) technologies for power generation. And they will examine processes for converting coal to chemicals while simultaneously producing electricity and capturing carbon dioxide.

To support the research, each country’s national government is contributing $12.5 million, matched by $12.5 million from state and private sector donors in the U.S. and China for a $50 million program.

Among the U.S. members are WVU, the University of Wyoming, and the University of Kentucky; the Wyoming State Geological Survey and the Indiana Geological Survey; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the National Energy Technology Laboratory; the US-China Clean Energy Fund and the World Resources Institute; and Alstom, American Electric Power, Babcock and Wilcox, Duke Energy, Inc., GE, and LP Amina.

“The partnership offers a unique opportunity for collaboration and learning among the best universities, laboratories, NGOs, and companies from both the United States and China. By working together, we can develop new breakthroughs and technological solutions as the world confronts the global challenge of shifting to a low-carbon future,” said Sarah Forbes of WRI, a US ACTC member organization.

The US ACTC represents perhaps the most ambitious of WVU’s programs under its Advanced Energy Initiative.  “The men and women of WVU who work on energy research programs with great national and international implications tackle those challenges under the University’s Advanced Energy Initiative,” said Curt Peterson, WVU Vice President for Research and Economic Development.

“The promise that this project holds for bold new innovations that provide solutions to the world’s energy needs is very at home under the AEI mission. Today’s agreement moves that mission forward on an international basis,” he said.

The signing ceremony took place at WVU’s National Research Center for Coal and Energy on Friday, August 19.

– NRCCE –

CONTACT: Trina Karolchik Wafle, (304) 293-6038

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