Corporate sharing of green patents can benefit the environment

Many large corporations hold the patents to green innovations – be it new technology or useful green products. And because these patents / products are often at the core of those companies business, they don’t like to share their “goodies”.

Enter the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, WBCSD, a global association of some 200 companies dealing exclusively with business and sustainable development that’s led by CEO’s. WBCSD created Green Patent Commons (aka Eco-Patent Commons) in order to foster efficiency and environmental sustainability.

Launched in January, 2008 by IBM, Nokia, Pitney Bowes and Sony in partnership with the WBCSD, this initiative was created to build an online, searchable repository for patents that are donated by companies for royalty-free use by anyone, without the need to purchase or license it. Since its founding, Eco-Patent Commons has seen over 150 patents pledged or donated so far.

Among these are a recent pledge by technology giant Hewlett-Packard recently of three technology patents to the program. These include:

  • a self-contained battery recycling station designed to encourage consumers to exchange their used batteries for new ones or for a credit,
  • a process that eliminates the need for antioxidant metal coatings (which can include heavy metals that damage both the environment and people’s health) during microchip and circuit board assembly.

DuPont has donated seven patents that offer environmentally superior refrigerants, or fluorocarbon alternatives, for refrigeration and air conditioning use. The company also recently pledged a technology that involves an organism which lights up to indicate the presence of a pollutant in water treatment facilities. Tara Stewart, sustainability advisor at DuPont, says this technology could “potentially be used to monitor soil, air and water quality in our communities and neighborhoods.” Instead of keeping its technology in-house, DuPont recognized that the Eco-Patent Commons offers an accelerated channel through which environmental solutions can be reached.

“Our hope is by sharing some of these patents that help the global environment, we can build a research community that comes together to solve the problems facing our planet and growing population,” says Stewart, adding that some of DuPont’s inventions sit outside the direction of their business, and they are happy to share these if it means the environment will benefit.

Making these patents available has allowed organizations around the world to use them as a basis to develop solutions to environmental problems. For example, Yale University has used a patent pledged by IBM to replace a toxic additive that was being used in their research computers with an environmentally preferable mixture of alcohol and water.

Björn Stigson, former president of the WBCSD, says: “The free sharing of these patents leads to new collaborations and innovation aimed at helping others become more eco-efficient and operate in a more sustainable way.”

The opportunity of green patent sharing definitely opens up some exciting possibilities. As more corporations jump on this bandwagon, new innovation will no longer be locked up behind closed doors. Who knows what amazing, efficient eco-innovations will come from this?! It’s an exciting time.


2 Responses

  1. Dear Debra,
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and exciting information. As I begin my research and endeavor in this new area as a career, I will refer back to your site for guidance and as a reliable source of interesting reads. I recently started assisting a company that sells green products and am fairly new to the blog community. Congratulations – your site is beautifully done and extremely educational!!

    • Thanks for your kind words.

      Do stay in touch and let me know if you come across really innovative, affordable green products I ought to know about!


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