Eco-Friendly Patents Up for Grabs in New High-Tech “Commons”

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Some of the world’s biggest companies have joined together to create a public online database for sharing patents for environmentally responsible products. The new Eco-Patent Commons was created to encourage researchers, entrepreneurs, and companies to develop more eco-friendly practices and incorporate them into their work, according to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, a coalition of some 200 leading companies, which helped launch the project.

The patent database was inspired by the open-source software movement, in which programmers freely share computer coding to facilitate knowledge exchange, explains David Kappos, a lawyer with IBM and one of the project’s founders. “The advantage of using this commons approach is efficiency, scale, and visibility,” Kappos told the Wall Street Journal. Other partnering companies include Sony Corp., Pitney Bowes Inc., and Nokia Corp.

Forcing companies to give away their intellectual property rights for eco-friendly technology has long been a point of contention in international climate change negotiations, including under the Kyoto Protocol. According to John Coequyt of Greenpeace, the commons is “potentially a way to solve the problem by voluntary action.”

The founding companies of the Eco-Patent Commons are donating more than 30 patents to jumpstart the initiative. IBM is donating the lion’s share, including a patent for recyclable packaging material as a replacement for foam peanuts. Nokia is contributing a patent for methods of recycling old mobile phones into digital cameras, data monitoring devices, and other electronic items. And Pitney Bowes has donated a patent for a design that protects electronic scales from being damaged when they are overloaded, useful for keeping the devices out of the waste stream longer.

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro@worldwatch.org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.

Some of the world’s biggest companies have joined together to create a public online database for sharing patents for environmentally responsible products.