From Patent Protection To Patent Sharing

Taking their inspiration from the success of free and open-source software, where information sharing has led to the bountiful new product creation, IBM, Nokia, Pitney-Bowes and Sonya have created the Eco-Patent Commons to share their environmental patents.

In this open-source domain administered by the WBCSD, registered companies can contribute technology patents that benefit the environment but don’t represent an essential source of business advantage for them. Until today there has been no organized effort to make patents available, without royalty, to help enable the world community to reduce waste, pollution, global warming, and energy demands.

Their interest in this is three-fold: first, by sharing their patents, they can access innovations and solutions to accelerate and facilitate environmentally friendly ideas and perhaps lead to further innovation. Second, the companies are in a unique leadership opportunity to make a difference towards sustainable development by sharing their innovations. Third, the Commons provides an opportunity for businesses to identify common areas of interest and establish new collaborative development efforts.The patents issue is well-known by these companies as together they apply for thousands of them every year. Companies tend to guard patents, imposing fees for or completely blocking their use. But the patents in the Commons can be used for free by any other company as long as it uses the patent for environmental purposes. The selection and submission of each organization’s patents for pledging is decided by each organization alone.

There are currently 31 patents on offer, ranging from solutions to conserve energy or improve energy or fuel efficiency, prevent pollution through source or waste reduction, promote the use of environmentally preferable materials or substances, reduce water or materials use and increase recycling.

"From Nokia we have pledged a patent designed to help companies safely re-use old mobile phones by transforming them into new products like digital cameras, data monitoring devices or other electronic items," said Donal O'Connell, Nokia's director of intellectual property. "Recycling the computing power of mobile phones in this way could significantly increase the reuse of materials in the electronics industry."

Pitney Bowes, the worldwide mail management company, is contributing to the Eco-Patent Commons because it hopes to promote the spread of environmentally conscious technologies that make conservation and preservation a priority. Sony Corp. is doing it because it feels that the time is right to stop going it alone in effectively protecting the environment.

"The Eco-Patent Commons provides a unique and significant leadership opportunity for business to make a difference - sharing their innovations and solutions in support of sustainable development," said WBCSD President Bjorn Stigson. "The Eco-Patent Commons also provides an opportunity for companies and other entities to identify areas of common interest and establish new relationships that can lead to further development in the patented technologies and elsewhere."

Innovation leading to environmental solutions requires both new technology, as well as the means to share it among companies. This initiative helps companies engage in protecting the environment through the free exchange of innovative intellectual property and begin working on future environmental challenges.

Notable forays into tackling specific sustainability challenges have included the Green Grid, a non-profit group of technology companies focusing on curbing power consumption, or OpenEco.org, an online community that provides free tools and resources around greenhouse gas emissions. This is, however, the first time such big companies have come together to share their resources for a broader range of issues.

Sharing environmental patents can help others become more eco-efficient and operate in a more environmentally sustainable manner — enabling technology innovation to meet social innovation – by working on the gear, rather than reinventing the wheel.