Fossil fuel corporations are notorious for buying up clean energy patents. After buying the patents, they will claim “We now have people working on clean energy.” The problem is: the few “clean energy” projects they actually roll out are so small and at such a slow pace, they are meaningless. This is called green-washing, and it is a trick invented by PR firms to allow polluting companies to fool people into thinking that the company is “green” now, even though they can continue to pursue their carbon-based bottom-line.
Beyond buying up clean energy patents as a part of green-washing efforts, big oil has worked relentlessly to derail clean energy research on university campuses.
At UC Berkeley, for example, after the $100 million Energy Biosciences Institute Contract was signed in 2007, the BP Oil Company moved its operations onto the UC Berkeley campus. There is now a whole floor of a building where only BP Oil staff are allowed to go. Also, according to the contract they signed, BP Oil’s staff gets to decide 100% of which clean energy research grants get funding at UC Berkeley. BP Oil also gets to keep 30% of the patents that the grad student workers produce—the top 30% of BP’s choosing!
Was BP really trying to profit from developing biofuels, or did BP seek power to hide clean energy patents away and to stop that technology from getting into people’s hands?
Many UC Berkeley professors were outraged by the BP contract—they had no consent in its signing—but the Board of Regents, a group who un-democratically run the university based on an oligarchical model—forced the contract upon the UC.
UC Berkeley really should no longer be thought of as a research university, but rather, it is simply the Research & Development division of BP Oil (as well as the dozen or so other corporations that have taken over the UC’s various research-based departments). Monsanto/Bayer has done the same thing out at UC Davis, where Monsanto/Bayer uses cheap graduate student labor to create genetically-modified seeds and organisms, with the corporation keeping the patents and deploying these organisms in a way that creates company profit without regard to massive starvation and farmer suicides in India, Africa, and around the world.
This specific pattern, within a larger pattern of university privatization, is happening because corporations are eager to avoid paying their own workers, so, by diverting their R&D to universities, corporations can replace their engineers with cheap graduate student labor to do their R&D. At the same time, they get to put the processes in place so they can thwart universities from producing/releasing alternatives to the supply chains these capitalists have already secured.
Last autumn, after years of pressure from students and faculty, the Regents of the University of California finally voted to divest the university’s endowment from fossil fuel companies. However, this is an empty gesture until the oil companies themselves are removed from the UC.