Legal Inventions: Feed-in Tariff and General Public License

I recall having started this blog about ten years ago. Until the Fukushima accident, my main interest here was copyright. I have not lost that interest. As soon as that little global warming problem is under control in a couple of years I am looking ahead to spend more time discussing intellectual property again.

One of the topics on copyright I discussed ten years ago was the General Public License.

Another topic I am discussing recently is the concept of a feed-in tariff.

With this post, I would like to point out something these two have in common: They are both legal inventions.

The genius of Richard Stallman in introducing the General Public License has had a strong influence on the way software is developed. It introduced a completely new way of doing business.

The German politicians (mainly Hans-Josef Fell and Hermann Scheer) introducing the feed-in tariff in 2000 had a strong influence on the way electricity is generated. They introduced a completely new way of doing business.

These legal inventions have changed the World more than most of the millions of inventions given patents at the patent office.

As far as I know, Richard Stallman has never applied for a patent for his great invention. It would not fit his moral convictions to do so.

As far as I know, neither Fell nor Scheer has ever applied for a patent for their great invention.

One reason for that is the fact that even with patent inflation running wild, most patent offices still don’t issue patents for new legal concepts.

The other reason is that Stallman, Fell, or Scheer would not have been interested in patenting their ideas in the first place.

And there is another thing the General Public License and the feed-in tariff have in common. Both were fueled by strong moral convictions rather than the desire to make a buck or two. In the case of the General Public License, it was the basic idea that software should be shared freely, as it was in the era of the large mainframe computers. In the case of the feed-in tariff, it was the basic idea that both fossil fuel and nuclear need to go, and that can only be done by expanding renewable.

I think there is a need for more legal innovation in the field of energy. The technical means for getting global warming under control are already there, all it takes to deploy existing technology faster (which doesn’t mean that newly developed technology won’t be very welcome in the coming decades, which will be decisive for assuring a chance of survival for humanity).

The example of the feed-in tariff, a new and untested concept at the time, shows the strong impact of this legal innovation.

It has done an excellent job at bringing solar and wind energy off the ground, the first stage in the rocket. Now there is a need to find the right instrument for the second stage, where development has proceeded faster than anybody predicted, to reach escape velocity.

Published by kflenz

Professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo. Author of Lenz Blog (since 2003,

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