In our Christmas edition we wanted to make our debating section special. This is why we invited two debaters to argue pro and against the motion, in the way they do when they attend debating competitions with their peers. These two first year law students have been debating for more than four years and have recently won Vienna Freshers’ Debating Tournament 2013. Therefore, we believe you are up for a treat.
Climate change is subject to various debates in the media, in parliaments or between academicians. It affects every single country, regardless of their pollution level. This makes it a collective action problem and environmentalists suggest that it should be fought on all levels in order to achieve success. This is why we proposed this motion for this issue. Is it justified to overstep the right of an individual actor in order to protect a bigger group, be it the entire planet? Is it the best way to achieve a sustainable environment? Our guests tackled the motion from various perspectives. Both agreed that eco-friendly technologies are something to strive for. Their opening statements provide arguments regarding the optimal method to do so. Enjoy the read!
Anda Prunea is a first year law student at Babes-Bolyai University. She has been an active member of a debate club for four years and she intends to be involved in debate-related activities at university as well. It is her firm belief that debating benefits people in a way that school cannot. That is why she became a trainer for high school students. She plans to take advantage of all the opportunities she has this year to take part in various activities and focus more on internships at law firms in the years to come.
Mihai is a first year student at the Law Faculty in Cluj-Napoca, and so far he likes it. He has received several awards at national and international debating competitions. Although everybody dreams of changing the world, he is confident he will succeed in doing so. He loves people and thinks we can learn from everyone around us, as we are defined by our friends and peers. He also wishes to get the chance to skydive before he dies.
Opening Statement - Anda
As the world faces the challenges of climate change, it seems that optimising the investment in renewable energy is the only way to create a sustainable environment. Achieving efficiency out of the way we produce and distribute is going to ensure energy security on the long term. Otherwise, sectors that we strongly rely on, like agriculture, will be seriously harmed in the near future. In order for green technology to reach its goal, production must be incentivised and consumers need to afford eco-friendly products.
As it is a matter of public interest, if someone owns precious information on how to fight climate change, accessing it should not be conditioned in any way. I am going to prove that by analysing how giving companies that amount of control over the use of their methods is not desirable as it brings prejudice to the main purpose of the invention. There are two main arguments for this.
First, patenting green technology alters competition. A patent is the exclusive right granted to an inventor to prevent others from making, using or selling the invention for a certain period of time (twenty years in most of the cases), in exchange for public disclosure of that discovery. If someone else wants to exploit the patentee’s invention by commercialising it, they need to pay royalties to the owner. So if a company has the first mover advantage by being the first one to produce something, this leaves other companies on the market with two options: either pay patent royalties and make profit by selling the patentee’s products, or invest in their own research and produce themselves.
If they decide to spend resources on research and come up with innovative and more efficient technology, the final price of the product will have to cover both manufacturing and research costs, therefore probably not being substantially lower than the price they are trying to compete with. Paying patent royalties leads to the monopolisation of the patentee company. This usually translates into the lack of innovation and competition. Hence, a more efficient way to encourage competition and stimulate improvement in the environmental friendly technologies would be to let the ideas circulate freely and avoid spending a lot of resources when it is not needed.
Second, patenting severely damages developing countries. These countries are more vulnerable to the perils of climate change due to their inability to invest heavily in healthcare or infrastructure. This makes them more prone to be affected by global warming as it would be difficult to cope with a natural disaster. Given the fact that the investment environment is usually insecure in these countries, they have no or very few means to properly invest in green technology. So they rely on the discoveries of the developed countries and their imitative capacities or on trade. Supplying the final products is not enough. It will not tackle climate change if domestic production does not go green as well. They need to have the possibility to develop their own clean technology to meet the demand. At the moment, the problem is that companies in developed countries only allow foreign access to the information in exchange of certain fees. As companies in less wealthy countries cannot afford the expensive patent taxes, this inhibits development by discouraging technological catch-up.
All in all, patenting on green technology hinders both domestic competition and the development of a sustainable environment where it is most needed. It harms efficient productivity and innovation in a crucial domain that should be revolutionised. Environmental security should therefore be prioritised to the detriment of the right to intellectual property.
Opening Statement - Mihai
In a world where ideas can change everything and people are paid more to think than to do hard work, one needs to acknowledge the importance of patents. On this side of the motion, the main goal will be to prove that companies should be allowed to have patents on green technology. Contrary to the opinion of some representatives in the United States, I realise the importance of green energy and see global warming as a major problem. The line of reasoning that will be followed will prove the importance of rewarding people and companies for their great ideas and incentivising them to create more green energy.
First, we live in a world fueled by new ideas and innovation. What keeps the earth spinning is that every time we encounter a problem, a brilliant person or a group of people comes with the idea that saves us. More than that, we face maybe one of the greatest problems humanity ever had to deal with. It is the first time in history when the progress and the massive industrialisation are creating a bad environment for the further generations. The consequences vary from melted glaciers to underwater cities, from hurricanes to lack of food and poverty. Companies that are trying to repair their previous mistakes in order for our children to be able to live in a fresh environment should be rewarded for their effort. New ideas take time, research, hours of work and sleep deprivation. Companies should be allowed to win money if they create new technology. Without allowing them to patent their inventions, the effort is not being rewarded as other companies have the possibility to use the same technology in which they never invested. New ideas and hard work should be rewarded and that is why we need patents.
Second, currently there is little incentive to invest in green energy. Removing the ability of companies to patent their ideas and work will definitely make slow the progress of fighting global warming. Most of the times, companies, especially the powerful ones, are driven by profit. The reason Toyota was able to develop the first all-electric SUV is the profit it will bring on the long term. The fact that they are the only company that is able to create such cars and sell them is due to the patent laws in the US (Anon, 2013). The removal of such laws will definitely halt the progress. The reasoning of the companies is simple. If you cannot profit from it, why should you do it? Furthermore, if any other companies can benefit from the ideas and hard work for free, why would they invest so much money in the first place? By removing patents laws there will be a race to the bottom where companies are no longer incentivised to develop green energy. As a result, all efforts to fight climate change will be in vain. There will be no new technologies created to help reduce the amount of pollution caused by, for instance, greenhouse gases emission which is worryingly growing. Because at this moment, innovation equals profit, companies invest in green technology (Gattari, 2013).
In conclusion, there are two major reasons for allowing companies to have patents in green technology. Profit is the only thing that keeps them investing, producing and saving us all. They should be allowed to benefit from their ideas and inventions and be incentivised to go on with their great work. Only then will they be able to explore the renewable energy at its fullest potential and come up with new methods to save the environment.
As you noticed, there are two main lines of argumentation in this debate. Anda argues that patenting alters competition, which has negative consequences on the overall positive change in green technologies and the way we protect the environment. She is also concerned about the effect patenting has upon developing economies, where going green is not all that fashionable, or affordable at the moment. On the other hand, Mihai believes that it is unjust to deprive somebody of the reward they deserve for their ideas. He also argues that this has real world consequences, as taking away an important incentive for companies will have devastating effects upon the developing of eco-friendly technologies. Keep reading to see how these two views conflict in the next part of our debates.
Rebuttal - Anda
While one must agree that spending time and energy on an invention should be somehow rewarded, I am going to show how patenting is not the way to do it. People need to be encouraged to come up with bright ideas, but these ideas also need to compete with each other and be improved, if we indeed strive for progress. The system of patent-granting harms the entire mechanism of advancement by generating huge disproportion in market shares. As a result, it impedes the evolution of a certain field as some companies are not given the chance to be competitive.
Regarding the opponent’s first argument, there is no need to argue whether an individual should be cheered up for his great work or not. The discussion should be whether extra profit is justified even when it can be a disincentive to work more in order to enhance the initial outcome. If the assumption is that there is a moral legitimacy attached to patents and it is not even about the profit, then recompense for the hard work can materialise in something other than money, like awards. But if the background for patents is strictly linked to the need for a pecuniary advantage, then their use should not be validated as I have shown previously how it affects progress by altering competition. There are some domains where exploration and improvement are crucial for future security, like that of green energy. In these domains, the guarantee of constant optimisation is more important than one’s profit.
Next, I am going to show why people would still be motivated to invest even without the patents. In light of the increase of the devastating effects of climate change, there is a growing demand for renewable energy. Also, there is a lot of room for improvement as global warming is advancing rapidly. Green technology seems to provide an emerging industry. So companies that want to invest in this sector would have to be really competitive and have efficient marketing strategies in a no-patent system. That should bring them the profit they are driven by.
In response to the opponent’s second argument, the reason why patenting actually sabotages innovation is the monopolisation that it creates. If an invention is patented, other people stop researching that particular area, leaving it to just that company to exploit and improve that technology. As I have shown in my first argument, they would rather not spend their resources on the same research that is likely to produce the same product as that would make them less competitive than desired on the market. Consequently, if one company would be willing to pay for the research and share it for free, it would allow itself and the other companies to invest in the improvement of the invention. That would create more chances to innovate based on that research. By patenting, the number of researchers working to develop the technology is limited. Thus, it is not maximising the potential of every single technology.
Overall, for green technology to produce the change that we want, it needs to be affordable, so as many people as possible use it. Because there are just a few companies that produce and benefit from the sales of eco-friendly technology, there is a lack of competition. This leads to prices that are not necessarily compatible with what people afford. For instance, patented pharmaceuticals are extremely expensive. On the whole, it should be much more about covering the needs than taking credit.
Rebuttal - Mihai
Even if the importance of innovation and cheap technology in fighting climate change is to be accepted, the world will make a major mistake if patents for green technology will be eliminated.
There are certain assumptions made in the first speech and I will try to prove that the arguments written by my colleague are based mostly on false premises. As a community of people living together, we have agreed on some regulations and laws that shall guide our actions and impose limitations. Rules are not rules if we are trying to avoid them every time another problem comes forward. On the other hand, the right of intellectual property is sacred as long as people are not afraid to think and act upon their thoughts.
Starting with the premise of the first argument, one has to acknowledge the meaning of the word competition. A race to the top is happening right now in our capitalist markets, where companies are not allowed to copy ideas and take credit from someone else’s work. Competition between companies is what solved major problems, like the high cost of living and being able to afford three meals a day. The message sent if the motion is approved is simple. One can lay on their back and wait for someone else to provide ideas. More than that, if they steal them and take credit for them, the market will reward them. This kind of approach will limit the innovation and competition between companies because everyone will be afraid to invest in research when anyone else can use their results. If I am not the only one than can benefit from my ideas, why should I produce them in the first place?
On the argument of developing countries, there are a few mistakes in the line of reasoning. First, the fact that we call them developing countries and that most of the times they do not have money for health-care or infrastructure does not mean that they do not do scientific research. Let us take the example of India and China, which both have a functioning space program. Second, the market in developing countries is available for western companies. What does this mean? It is simple. If a developing country wants to pay patent royalties, they are able to do so. The cost might be even cheaper than investing into research. More than that, people in developing countries have access to modern technology and they are able to directly buy western products. On the other hand, incentivising companies to invest and discover new forms of green technology is only going to work if their ability to steal ideas from others is limited. A company based in a developing country can benefit the same way from a patent as a company in a developed country.
In conclusion, the world is facing yet another major problem that is directly affecting our future. During the fight with climate change we cannot forget our basic human needs and what drives and makes us come up with new ideas and innovate. Especially if we are talking about companies, they are driven by profit and this is a good thing. Research and innovation, new ideas should be rewarded and this can only happen if the ability of companies to patent green technology is preserved.
Rebuttals are usually the most intense part of each debate. There were two interesting ideas that came out of the opponents’ remarks. First, there was the clash between meritocracy and the right of others to a sustainable environment. While Anda believes that it is justified to reward companies for their investment in research, she thinks that patenting is not the way to do it due to the implications it has on the fight against climate change. Mihai argues that we can have the best of both worlds, as rewarding companies incentivises them to innovate. Second, there was the issue of developing countries. It is true that most of the times these countries must focus on investing in economy rather than worrying about the environment, as poverty is an immediate threat. However, these countries suffer the most from climate change. The question remains, how is it best to tackle the issue: have them go green structurally or transfer eco-friendly technology from developed economies? I guess it is up to you to determine the winner. I hope you enjoyed our debate! Happy Holidays!
Conclusions - Anda
There were two main clashes in this debate. First, whether patenting disservices competition or not. Second, if developing countries stand a chance to develop their own green technology or should the wealthier countries transfer it to them.
On the point of competition, the importance of incentivising people to compete with one another in order to innovate seems to be commonly accepted. But patenting only enables companies to have a monopoly on the market and prevents others from competing, reducing therefore the possibility of innovation. As I have shown, people would innovate in the field of renewable energy even without the patents, as right now the increasing demand makes it a booming industry.
The problem with developing countries is that providing them western eco-friendly products does not suffice. Their own manufacturing process has to be green. For instance, their factories must cut the carbon emissions as well. China might invest in research. However, in other developing countries the standard of living is so low that people are not prepared to face the immediate devastating effects of climate change, such as massive floods. Therefore, transferring green technology to them for free will help prevent that.
Clearly, the debate behind this debate is whether people should be rewarded for their inventions. If by rewarding them the utility of that invention is harmed, then not doing so is completely legitimate.
Conclusions - Mihai
One can clearly see that there are two kinds of arguments in this debate. The main clash is between the power and free will of the individual, or the company in this case, and the needs of the world or the state.
Each and every time, governments try to uphold their intrusive policies by arguing that they are going to help the society and those in need. While I agree that climate change is a major problem, I think that only by allowing companies to patent their invention the problem is going to be solved.
On this side of the house, I believe that progress is made with effort and those who want to invest should be rewarded, not with awards, but with money.
Right now, companies have this possibility and one can clearly observe the huge progress that was made in this domain because companies have an incentive to spend time and money to provide consumers electric cars, solar panels and other kinds of green energy.
One needs to acknowledge how companies need an incentive to provide better and better ideas, not just copy or improve the old ones.