The Eco-Patent Commons

Back in January, nGenera colleague Derek penned an interesting post on the Eco-Patent Commons, a consortium of large private sector organizations each of whom pledged to release a portfolio of dozens of environmentally focused patents to the public domain. As many of these patents have been lying dormant in the R&D labs of these companies, releasing them to the public as a means of seeing whether outside experts might be able to do something with them carries little risk. But it does mark a departure from the usual process of monetizing unused IP/patents. In fact, given the thrust towards green-tech and environmental sustainability you might question why you’d give up valuable IP in this space, and subsequently one might question the quality/value of these now available patents.

That notwithstanding, the good folks at IBM (one of the founders of the consortium) sent us through a little update on the project that I thought was worth mentioning here:

“I wanted to give you a heads up that later today we will announce that Xerox, DuPont and Bosch have joined the Eco-Patent Commons, a first-of-its-kind business effort to help the environment by pledging environmentally-beneficial patents to the public domain. The newly-pledged patents include:

-A Xerox technology that significantly reduces the time and cost of removing hazardous waste from water and soil;

-A technology developed by DuPont that converts certain non-recyclable plastics into beneficial fertilizer;

-Automotive technologies from Bosch that help lower fuel consumption, reduce emissions, or convert waste heat from vehicles into useful energy;

-Technologies developed by founding member Sony that focus on the recycling of optical discs.

The new pledges more than double the number of environmentally-friendly patents available to the public. They are available on a dedicated Web site hosted by the WBCSD (http://www.wb\csd.org/web/epc). Many of the original patent holders have been contacted directly about their patents and we know of at least three patents that have already been used by others since the January launch of the Commons.”

Now regardless of my pessimism around the quality of these patents, the fact that they’re being made available is a significant depature from the usual monetization route and acts as a rather astute form of CSR. Moreover, for developing country research labs this offers a pretty amazing short-cut route to potentially valuable technologies and thus might mean that they gain the ability to produce rather than purchase these new tools. But perhaps where this model is most valuable is the potential that other industries might follow suit….. is anyone in health care and pharma listening?

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