17. The interplay of public IPR policies and corporate IPR strategies in sustainability transitions

Convenors: Carsten Dreher, Elisabeth Eppinger and Martina Kovac.

Session type: Full paper session.

Sustainability transitions depend on the development and the diffusion of new technological, social or business model innovations. Intellectual property rights (IPR) such as patents, copyright, utility models, and trade secrets as an innovation policy tool aim at incentivizing innovation by providing firms with a restricted monopoly to recoup their R&D investments. Firms may also use IPR strategically to prolong less sustainable technologies and block more sustainable solutions. Recent firm-level studies analysing the role of IP for effective sustainability transitions show distinct effects on the diffusion of sustainable innovations using different IPR strategies (i.e. open-source software and hardware, pledges, closed, differentiated licensing or open sharing strategies) (e.g., Hartwell & Marco, 2016; Oh & Matsuoka, 2016; Surana et al., 2020; Vimalnath et al., 2020). Accordingly, transition research, mission oriented policy, and the field of responsible research and innovation quest for balancing intellectual property rights.

Corporations face various trade-offs in building and/or maintaining their IP portfolio, which could be influenced by different policy actors’ behaviours regarding IPR, proactive diffusion support or fair treatment of various actors in different world regions. In this track we ask, whether public policies regarding IPR can support, foster or hinder a quicker diffusion of innovation in sustainability transitions. This includes discussions on legal instruments, innovation policies to support IPR (i.e. direct support for patents, copyrights or trademarks; including the provision of information or training) or wider framework conditions (e.g., circular economy design guidelines to support repair and recycling). Furthermore,  IPR  policies  can  be  an  important  building  block  for  innovation  policy mixes for sustainability transitions (Kivimaa & Kern, 2016; Rogge & Reichardt, 2016). It also refers to discussions on the excess, absence or shortcomings of formal institutions including IPR laws or regulations in different international contexts.

The role of IPR (policies) in sustainability transitions is insufficiently understood, literature on IPR (policies) and sustainability transitions are often addressed separately and discussed in different research communities. We argue that recent developments require a more inclusive and collaborative approach to study IPR frameworks and tools to understand it’s impact, ability and role for sustainability transitions. Paper can address either separate topics or exploring the  intersection between IPR (policies) to support sustainability transitions. We invite contributions from the fields  of innovation policy, sustainability research, law and interdisciplinary social sciences. The session  is open for theoretical or empirical full paper and targets discussions on the future direction of research as well as discussions on options and implications for policymakers.

We, therefore, call for paper, which address – but are not limited to – the following questions:

  • What role (enabling  and  decelerating) do IPR have in current policy mixes to support sustainability transitions?
  • What are appropriate research methods to investigate the role of IPR in sustainability-oriented policies?
  • What are favourable IPR strategies for sustainable innovation for different types of companies, their business model and in varying world regions?
  • How do public policy and public IPR regimes support, remove barriers and encourage  corporate actors to choose for favourable corporate IPR strategies for sustainability transitions?



Hartwell I, Marco J. (2016). Management of intellectual property uncertainty in a remanufacturing strategy for automotive energy storage systems. Journal of Remanufacturing2016, 6 (3).

Kivimaa, P., & Kern, F. (2016). Creative destruction or mere niche support? Innovation policy mixes for sustainability transitions.Research Policy, 45 (1), 205-217.

Oh C, Matsuoka S (2016). Complementary approaches to discursive contestation on the effects of the IPR regime on technology transfer in the face of climate change. Journal of Cleaner Production, 128), 168-177.

Surana K, Singh A, Sagar AD. (2020). Strengthening science, technology, and innovation-based incubators to help achieve Sustainable Development Goals: Lessons from India. Technological Forecasting and Social Change. 157, 120057.

Rogge, K. S., & Reichardt, K. (2016). Policy mixes for sustainability transitions: An extended concept and framework for analysis. Research Policy, 45 (8), 1620-1635.

Vimalnath, P., F. Tietze, E. Eppinger and J. Sternkopf. (2020). Closed, semi-open or fully-open? Towards an intellectual property strategy typology. 80th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, Vancouver, Canada, August 7-11, 2020.