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Intellectual Property

Protecting intellectual property (IP) is a vital part of promoting innovation. CERC includes a novel framework for protecting and sharing intellectual property that provides a strong foundation for U.S.-China clean energy cooperation. The framework enables research partners to share information with confidence and to retain appropriate rights for new technologies they create. Research partners can share the benefits of breakthroughs according to IP agreements established before work begins and extend those benefits by entering traditional commercial contracts to set the terms and to allocate their rights to—and royalties from—their creations.

Key Documents

These documents together form CERC’s unique IP framework.


The CERC IP framework is outlined in two key documents, the CERC Protocol and the IP Annex (English PDF Chinese PDF). This framework protects U.S. and Chinese researchers, scientists, and engineers by assuring IP rights for the technologies they create. It also defines how intellectual property may be shared or licensed in each country. IP rights are guaranteed in each territory, and IP terms and conditions may be negotiated. Where IP is created in a jointly funded research project, the project’s participants in both countries have the right to obtain a non-exclusive license to the IP. The Protocol was amended (English PDF Chinese PDF) in September 2015 to include the Water and Energy Technologies consortium.


The CERC IP framework is outlined in two key documents, the CERC Protocol and the IP Annex.

An overarching framework of Technology Management Plans (TMPs) for each consortium guide development of CERC project- or IP-specific contracts.

These TMPs were first negotiated and endorsed over the course of 2011 for the three original CERC consortia (ACTC, BEE, and CVC) in both English and Chinese to ensure maximum clarity. Each consortium’s TMP was signed by the consortium’s U.S. and Chinese directors. For phase 2, new TMPs were negotiated, endorsed, and signed by the U.S. and Chinese directors for CVC, WET, and TRUCK.

Although each of the consortia has unique characteristics for the TMP to address, common elements are shared in the plan framework. Key provisions of the TMPs include the following:

  • A clear understanding of IP principles and administrative procedures, before work begins
  • Enhanced protection for IP rights, with endorsements by both governments
  • A requirement to share the benefits of joint research
  • Means for negotiating terms and conditions
  • Pathways for dispute resolution

An annotated version of the TMP explains the meaning or implications of certain provisions and how to implement certain provisions of the TMP in specific projects.


To ensure legal enforceability, the corresponding government ministries formally agreed to and endorsed the TMPs, signing a separate Agreement on the Technology Management Plan for the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center for each consortium.

IP Education and Training

To help researchers understand the IP framework outlined in the TMPs and other pertinent IP laws and practices in each country, the U.S. Department of Energy and China’s Ministry of Science and Technology carry out a continuing program of IP education and training. The program increases mutual awareness and understanding of the IP laws and practices of each country, how they intersect, and how they pertain to the formation of IP-protected research collaborations under CERC. Both countries will also offer guidance and technical assistance to CERC participants to ensure that CERC-related contracts comport with the TMP and controlling documents.

CERC prepared an IP guide to assist the research community working on CERC projects by answering questions that researchers might ask regarding IP and technology transfer. The guide provides a broad overview of the technology transfer process generally, with additional pointers specific to fulfilling CERC objectives, including that of commercial development of inventions that result from CERC research projects. English Chinese

To improve CERC participants’ understanding of each country’s laws and practices impacting intellectual property rights, the U.S.-China Clean Energy Forum holds IP workshops for CERC participants.


CERC’s first pilot training session gave more than 120 researchers and administrators from participating CERC institutions a clear overview of the CERC IP program and legal framework and provided useful insight into China’s patent application process, patent strategies, and IP licensing strategies and practice. Presented in Chinese on November 16-17, 2015, in Wuhan, China, the program was jointly organized by the Chinese-German Institute for Intellectual Property in the School of Management at Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST) and the U.S.-China Clean Energy Forum (CEF) with valuable support from China’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST).

View the bios and the presentations of the training session.

summary report of the training session highlights key learnings from the session.


 The fourth IP workshop was held at Stanford, California, USA, on February 26–27, 2013. The joint workshop focused on the real-world experiences of companies and researchers from the United States and China and explored how intellectual property issues are affecting clean energy innovation and investment in the two countries. In addition, the workshop explored current legal thinking on intellectual property as it concerns the clean energy industry. View the agenda and presentations from the workshop. A summary report highlights key findings of the workshop.


 The third IP workshop, which included all CERC participants, was held at Haikou, China, on 5–6, 2012. A summary report highlights key findings of the workshop. View presentations from the workshop.


The second IP Workshop, held at HUST in Wuhan, China in May 2011, was attended by U.S. and Chinese Advanced Coal Technology Consortium (ACTC) participants. At the workshop, Chinese and American experts discussed with ACTC participants applicable laws and the TMP and government contracting requirements that impact IP rights.


 The first joint workshop on IP was held in Washington, DC, in January 2011, in conjunction with the visit of President Hu Jintao and a meeting of the CERC Steering Committee. This workshop introduced to CERC leaders of both countries the key provisions of the CERC Protocol’s Annex on intellectual property.