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Patent Law and the Environment/Technology Paradox

May 1990

Citation: ELR 10171

Author: Michael A. Gollin

Advances in technology bring mixed blessings: technology causes pollution at the same time it raises standards of living. Properly directed, technology can also clean up and control some of the environmental problems it caused in the first place. From an environmental perspective, it is important to distinguish between harmful and beneficial technology. For example, beneficial technology includes pollution control devices, cleanup equipment, industrial processes that minimize resources used and waste produced, and consumer products that are environmentally benign. There is mounting consensus that today's environmental regulations do a passable job at regulating harmful technology but do little to encourage beneficial technology.1

But while environmental law is only beginning to encourage beneficial technology, patent law for centuries has been a dynamic engine of technology innovation. Patents already play a role in the environmental protection business. For example, General Electric contaminated Hudson River sediment with PCBs, then received a patent for PCB-digesting bacteria. ENSR Corp. is defending a lawsuit brought by Unison Transformer Services, Inc., alleging infringement of a patent for cleaning PCBs out of transformers.2

Mr. Gollin holds a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Princeton University, a master's degree in zoology and molecular biology from the University of Zurich, and a juris doctor's degree from Boston University. He is registered to practice in the Patent and Trademark Office and has extensive experience with patent matters. Mr. Gollin is currently associated with Sive, Paget & Risel, P.C., where he is focusing on technology-related aspects of environmental law.

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