One way to kick-start the spread of green technology is for companies to make their patents available to other innovators. Toyota announced earlier this month that it was releasing 5,680 patents on its Mirai fuel cell vehicle between now and 2020, including 1,970 patents that deal with the actual fuel cell itself.
Last year, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk released all patents on the hot-selling Tesla electric car, stating that it was his goal to slow climate change. "It is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis," Musk said.
But will this strategy work? Experts say that while patents can sometimes hinder the spread of green technologies by keeping innovation behind corporate doors, it's often the money and technical know-how that are the biggest obstacle to expanding the commercialization of EVs, as well as wind, solar, hydro and other renewable technologies.
"It's difficult to know why, but something good is happening here," said Estelle Derclaye, professor of intellectual property law at the University of Nottingham (UK). "This way, anybody can use (the technology). The problem is that even if the patent is out, you don't always know how to build the machine with the patent. It might not work as well."
But the real challenge is money, according to Derclaye. The dispute over green technology patents for wind turbines and solar panels has been a sticking point in recent years at the world climate negotiations.
Some developing nations say they need help if they are going to adopt carbon-free technologies that will lessen their carbon footprint, and that one way to do that is loosening intellectual property protections that keep these innovations relatively expensive.
Wealthier nations respond that they don't have the resources to build everyone a carbon-free house with solar panels, or erect wind farms in every country that wants them.