Returning to my predicted wind turbine patent gold rush, I ran a search today (July 14, 2008) and found that there are 137 issued patents and pending applications that use the phrase “wind turbine” in the claims. This number does not seem like very many patents and applications for a technology that is supposed to be worth $1 trillion or more. However, now that Mr. Pickens has declared that wind turbine technology has such a huge potential payoff, I predict that patent applications will be filed on every possible improvement in this area, whether perceived or actual. These increased filings will quickly result in enhanced patent complexity, which will, in short, substantially increase the cost of bringing wind turbine technology innovations to the marketplace.
Moreover, the wind turbine patent gold rush will enhance the risk of playing in this space. To date, it appears that patent litigation in the area of wind turbine technology has been fairly limited and generally appears to have been settled amicably. With the predicted patent gold rush, wind turbine-related patent litigation will become rampant. Also, the identities and business of the parties bringing the lawsuits will change. That is, as of this time, any wind turbine patent lawsuits have likely been brought by manufacturers who had a vested interest in protecting their actual products from competition. In the upcoming wind turbine patent gold rush, many of those who obtain wind turbine-related patents will have no interest whatsoever in making or selling wind turbines. These “patent entrepreneurs” (an example of which I wrote about in this blog post) will seek to obtain patent rents from the actual manufacturers, which will further increase the cost of introducing real innovations into the wind turbine playing space.
Certainly, patent issues should not serve as a barrier to implementation of wind turbine technology if the economics of this green energy source otherwise make it the right thing for business and society. However, any company seeking to play in this space must be cognizant of the effect that the likely wind turbine patent gold rush will have on the ability for them to succeed in their business plans. These companies must formulate and successfully execute patent strategies that will allow them to realize their business objectives, notwithstanding the rush of others to capitalize on this burgeoning $1 trillion market.