Innovation in action: tackling the effects of climate change

Jon Lawson

The importance of reducing and reversing climate change can’t be overstated, due to its potential to impact the future of society. In coming together to tackle the global climate crisis at COP26, business leaders and ministers must find a way to protect communities and natural habitats.

Formed in January 2021, the Adaptation Action Coalition, which was developed by the UK and other partners, aims to progress action to “adapt and build resilience to the impacts of climate change” by 2030. Such impacts include drought, flooding, heat waves, rising sea levels and melting glaciers, for example.

A number of fascinating technologies have been advanced in an attempt to mitigate the impacts of such climatic changes. For instance, a US patent (US 9977963) filed by Northrop Grumman Systems is directed to tracking and analysing wildfires to provide early warning and prevent further spread. The company has developed a method which uses an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to deploy sensors which measure wind conditions within and surrounding a wildfire. This method assists fire responders to make decisions when tackling wildfires to prevent spread. Over the past year, there have been numerous wildfires across multiple locations including California, Turkey, Greece and Siberia. Bringing devastating consequences to land and wildlife, technologies to counteract the effects of climate change are vital.

Soil salinity is a large problem in agriculture with excessive salt causing issues such as inhibiting growth, reducing reproductive activity and affecting viability. As such, placement of crops geographically is limited. With climate change bringing about floods and rising sea levels, Agrisea has genetically engineered a plant with a higher threshold for soil salinity. In particular, its currently pending application WO 2021/156478, is directed to an engineered plant with genome edits having an ECe (threshold salinity value) of 11 or greater. This technology, and others like it could be key to advancing the COP26 goal of building resilient infrastructure and agriculture, and to providing millions of subsistence farmers with the opportunity to improve their quality of life by reducing the poverty associated with crop failure.

Some cities have developed urban areas with artificial environments to control flooding by turning urban areas into a ‘sponge’. A number of areas in China including Beijing have made use of this concept. A Chinese utility model (CN205839508U) is directed to a paved road structure for use in such sponge cities. The structure is formed of materials which more easily absorb water than conventional paving used in urban areas. This technique alongside other sponge city mechanisms enables cities to cope with flooding by increasing the amount of absorbent land. In addition, some city infrastructures provide channelling and storage systems which can be used to help alleviate water shortages.

With businesses becoming more aware of their impact on climate change and the heightened concern of consumers, protection for intellectual property rights in relation to environmentally-conscious inventions and environmentally-friendly brands has never been more important.

Patent protection for developing technologies should be sought by businesses hoping to recuperate some of their investment into R&D activities. In the UK, the examination of a patent for technologies which are considered to have some environmental benefit can be accelerated using the Green Channel grant acceleration process. With no additional fee for using this service, and the potential to obtain a granted patent right in less than a year, applicants seeking protection in the UK should consider using the Green Channel where possible.

Taking action to reduce and reverse the effects of climate change is vital to the future of the planet and innovators can support this activity by developing technologies and bringing them to market as quickly as possible.

• The author, Dr Joanna Thurston, is a partner and patent attorney at intellectual property firm, Withers & Rogers LLP



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