U.S. and Chinese officials heading up a series of joint advanced coal projects Friday signed an intellectual property agreement meant to ease the sharing of innovative technology while protecting patents and licensing agreements.

Companies collaborating on research and development projects tied to the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center (CERC), a program started in 2009, can enter into regular commercial contracts. But energy technology companies participating in the U.S.-China program must negotiate licenses "in good faith" to ensure both nations benefit.

Inventors of technology can set the terms, according to a description of the agreement, including royalties and limits on the use of an invention. But the terms cannot be so restrictive that they in essence bar the sharing of advanced coal technology by the United States and China.

Major energy companies have a stake in the plan for protecting intellectual property, including U.S. energy giants General Electric and Duke Energy and the French conglomerate Alstom. U.S. and Chinese officials visiting the West Virginia University campus in Morgantown to sign the agreement Friday said the governments also have a lot to gain by greasing the wheels for further cooperation on clean energy.

Robert Marlay, director of the CERC program out of the U.S. Department of Energy, said the intellectual property agreement flows from direct talks among U.S. and Chinese leaders, "suggesting diplomatic and binding support of the agreement."

Ending a culture of distrust?
With both governments putting their stamps of approval on an enforceable approach to intellectual property, Marlay said, U.S. and Chinese companies could be more willing to work together.

U.S. developers of energy technology have been wary about making innovations available to Chinese energy producers for fear their inventions will be copied. Chinese companies are also doing more inventing, and the nation's patent laws are becoming more sophisticated. That has spurred both sides to negotiate a solution.

The agreement, officials said, is meant to cut through a culture of distrust that has kept American and Chinese scientists and companies from collaborating on potential solutions to the knottiest energy issues. China and the United States are the world's biggest users of energy and producers of greenhouse gas emissions tied to global warming. They both rely on coal, and cutting emissions at coal-burning power plants and other industrial plants is the goal of one of three programs tied to U.S.-China CERC.

Joint research is attempting to advance technology for capturing and storing carbon dioxide emissions, turning coal into natural gas and stripping coal of its pollutants while it is used at a power plant. It is also working on capturing carbon produced at plants designed to turn coal into diesel fuel.

"With today's signing, our consortium members can know that their own intellectual property will be protected," said Jerald Fletcher, a professor at West Virginia University and director of the U.S. advanced coal consortium under U.S.-China CERC. "New technologies created by the U.S.-China teams will be shared in a fair and clearly defined manner."

Cooperation more possible on other technologies
Besides coal, CERC includes partnerships to speed the development of electric vehicles and expand measures in both countries to cut energy use and emissions from buildings.

Officials and the consortia of corporate and research partners tied to the three programs plan to use the advanced coal intellectual property plan as a model.

Protecting technology tied to electric vehicles is viewed as a particularly sticky issue for both countries. U.S.- and China-based companies are racing to commercialize battery technology and grab a potentially big global market for electric vehicles.

Sources said a significant challenge has been writing rules that adhere to intellectual property laws in both countries. Pre-existing intellectual property agreements remain protected.

The effort this year for advanced coal technology included nearly 20 drafts, in two languages, and sought the input of U.S. companies. It was written to ensure a better deal on intellectual property protection for companies that sign on as partners in the U.S.-China program.

The agreement is expected to be signed by Energy Secretary Steven Chu and his Chinese counterpart at a meeting in Beijing in September.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500