The emergence of patent races in lignocellulosic biofuels, 2002-2015

Hannes Toivanen (Corresponding Author), Michael Novotny

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

    16 Citations (Scopus)


    How does increasing economic and technological interest in biofuels shape the nature of the intellectual property rights (IPR) in the industry? Is the technological nature of biofuel patents and inventions, as well as the business itself undergoing a transformation? This article provides a patent analysis of lignocellulosic biofuels with U.S. patent publications between 2002 and 2015 in order to shed light on the broader economic and regulatory factors affecting the development of new technologies in the area. Patent applications in the technology have increased about eightfold in this period and count about 130–150 per year currently, and could soon reach 200 annual filings. Specifically, we analyse in what ways the nature of lignocellulosic biofuel technologies is changing, and our results suggest that this business is indeed being transformed by increasing research and development (R&D) and IPR efforts, material in an evident patent race. We document a relatively small, but nascent technology, with some key technology areas increasing between four- and tenfold, over the last decade. Technologically leading countries are the U.S., followed by Germany, Japan, France and the U.K. We argue that intensified global and industry-wide claims for IPR reveal an ongoing patent race with multiple implications for the industry and engineering community. Most importantly, industry's technological interdependence is likely to increase as the likelihood for broad, exclusive patent regimes diminishes, making the industry more likely to explore increasingly collaborative technological solutions when carrying out R&D and investing in new production facilities in the future.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)318-326
    JournalRenewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017
    MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


    This research has been supported with research grant (40204/174) from Tekes – The Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation – and with research grant 2014-06082 from Vinnova – the Swedish Innovation system Agency – for the project “RAID: Radical and Incremental Innovation”.


    • biofuels
    • lignocellulose
    • patent analysis
    • patent landscape
    • policy
    • emerging technology
    • business strategy


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