Here is a layman's summary of an accepted and online-as-draft article that I 
co-wrote with Josh Sarnoff and Jorge Contreras.


Solar Climate Engineering And Intellectual Property
April 27, 2016
Jesse L. Reynolds
Postdoctoral researcher, and Research funding coordinator, sustainability and 
Department of European and International Public Law, Tilburg Law School

Climate change has been the focus of much legal and policy activity in the last 
year: the Paris Agreement<>, the 
Urgenda ruling in the Netherlands<>, 
aggressive climate targets in China's latest five year 
 the release of the final US Clean Power 
Plan<>, and the legal challenge to 
it. Not surprisingly, these each concern controlling greenhouse gas emissions, 
the approach that has long dominated efforts to reduce climate change risks.

Yet last week, an alternative approach received a major-but little 
noticed-boost. For the first time, a federal budget bill included an allocation 
specifically for so-called "solar climate 
 This set of radical proposed technologies would address climate change by 
reducing the amount of incoming solar radiation. These would globally cool the 
planet, counteracting global warming. For example, humans might be able to 
mimic the well-known cooling caused by large volcanos via injecting a 
reflective aerosol into the upper atmosphere. Research thus far - which has 
been limited to modeling - indicates that solar climate engineering (SCE) would 
be effective at reducing climate change, rapidly felt, reversible in its direct 
climatic effects, and remarkably inexpensive. It would also pose risks that are 
both environmental - such as difficult-to-predict changes to rainfall patterns 
- and social - such as the potential for international disagreement regarding 
its implementation.

The potential role of private actors in SCE is unclear. On the one hand, 
decisions regarding whether and how to intentionally alter the planet's climate 
should be made through legitimate state-based processes. On the other hand, the 
private sector has long been the site of great innovation, which SCE technology 
development requires. Such private innovation is both stimulated and governed 
through governmental intellectual property (IP) policies. Notably, SCE is not a 
typical emerging technology and might warrant novel IP policies. For example, 
some observers have argued that SCE should be a patent-free endeavor.

In order to clarify the potential role of IP in SCE (focusing on patents, trade 
secrets, and research data), Jorge Contreras of the University of Utah, Joshua 
Sarnoff of DePaul University, and I wrote an article that was recently accepted 
and scheduled for 
publication<> by the 
Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & 
Technology<>. The article explains the 
need for coordinated and open licensing and data sharing policies in the SCE 
technology space.

SCE research today is occurring primarily at universities and other traditional 
research institutions, largely through public funding. However, we predict that 
private actors are likely to play a growing role in developing products and 
services to serve large scale SCE research and implementation, most likely 
through public procurement arrangements. The prospect of such future innovation 
should be not stifled through restrictive IP policies. At the same time, we 
identify several potential challenges for SCE technology research, development, 
and deployment that are related to rights in IP and data for such technologies. 
Some of these challenges have been seen in regard to other emerging 
technologies, such as the risk that excessive early patenting would lead to a 
patent thicket with attendant anti-commons effects. Others are more particular 
to SCE, such as oft-expressed concerns that holders of valuable patents might 
unduly attempt to influence public policy regarding SCE implementation. 
Fortunately, a review of existing patents, policies, and practices reveals a 
current opportunity that may soon be lost. There are presently only a handful 
of SCE-specific patents; research is being undertaken transparently and at 
traditional institutions; and SCE researchers are generally sharing their data.

After reviewing various options and proposals, we make tentative suggestions to 
manage SCE IP and data. First, an open technical framework for SCE data sharing 
should be established. Second, SCE researchers and their institutions should 
develop and join an IP pledge community. They would pledge, among other things, 
to not assert SCE patents to block legitimate SCE research and development 
activities, to share their data, to publish in peer reviewed scientific 
journals, and to not retain valuable technical information as trade secrets. 
Third, an international panel-ideally with representatives from relevant 
national and regional patent offices-should monitor and assess SCE patenting 
activity and make policy recommendations. We believe that such policies could 
head off potential problems regarding SCE IP rights and data sharing, yet could 
feasibly be implemented within a relatively short time span.

Our article, "Solar Climate Engineering and Intellectual Property: Toward a 
Research Commons," is available 
online<> as a 
preliminary version. We welcome comments, especially in the next couple months 
as we revise it for publication later this year.

Jesse Reynolds
Postdoctoral researcher, and Research funding coordinator, sustainability and 
Department of European and International Public Law, Tilburg Law School
Tilburg Sustainability Center
Tilburg University
Book reviews editor, Law, Innovation, and Technology
Tel +31 (0) 13 466 2030

My latest publication: "The International Politics of Climate Engineering: A 
Review and Prospectus for International 
 in International Studies Review

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