Home > commons, CSR, Enviro Derangement Syndrome, intellectual property, patents > Great idea? Corporations create a patent commons in order to protect the environmental commons!

Great idea? Corporations create a patent commons in order to protect the environmental commons!

Or a frightful thought – corporations cooperating with greenies to advance shared goals?  By sharing patents for free in order to clean up the environment and limit environmental footprints, are corporations being co-opted by socialists?  What corporations in their right minds would do such a thing – give away patent rights and cooperate with Environazis in establishing an “Eco-Patent Commons“? 

How about Bosch, DuPont, IBM, Nokia, Pitney Bowes, Sony, and Xerox?

A cynic might say this could be just good “corporate citizen” PR.  But an Austrian would applaud voluntary efforts to contribute to shared resolutions to shared problems, and note that it may make sense for corporations to enhance not only their public image but to strengthen internal cooperation by expressing widely shared preferences and aspirations.

Allow me to quote from a recent press release:

“Geneva, 8 September 2008 – Bosch, DuPont and Xerox Corporation have joined the Eco-Patent Commons, a first-of-its-kind business effort [launched in January 2008 by IBM, Nokia, Pitney Bowes and Sony in partnership with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)] to help the environment by pledging environmentally-beneficial patents to the public domain. The three companies and founding member Sony pledge environmentally friendly patents to the public.

“The newly pledged patents include:

  • A cutting edge, 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 Eco-Patent Commons … provides a unique opportunity for global business to make a difference — sharing innovation in support of sustainable development. The objectives of the Eco-Patent Commons are to facilitate the use of existing technologies to protect the environment, and encourage collaboration between businesses that foster new innovations.

“Today’s 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.wbcsd.org/web/epc). Patents pledged to the Eco-Patent Commons may involve innovations directly related to environmental solutions or may be innovations in manufacturing or business processes where the solution also provides an environmental benefit, such as pollution prevention or the more efficient use of materials or energy.

“Since the launch of the Eco-Patent Commons in January, many of the patent holders have been contacted directly about their patents and at least three patents have already been used by others. “We are pleased that the commons is beginning to have an impact,” said Bjorn Stigson, president of the WBCSD. “We hope it will be a positive contribution to the challenge of technology diffusion around the world.”

  1. TokyoTom
    October 6th, 2008 at 09:34 | #1

    CRF, while some degree of cynicism is probably appropriate, the example of the pharma companies just isn’t applicable to these inductrial firms.

    No doubt there’re looking for PR benefits, but why can’t they also be interested in a cleaner environment and saw a way to get both, by opening up for free use patents that they found useful but didn’t see a goldmine in?

  2. crf
    October 5th, 2008 at 18:54 | #2

    This is a good idea. I hope it works.

    The cynical me says that this is likely part of a far-sighted effort on the part of corporations to deal with the future pressure upon governments to act to require mandatory licencing on many environmental technologies. Corporations would likely (and quite properly) push back hard against such legislation, and it would help to be armed with a well thought-out alternative. So they need to collectively build an in-house procedure, and to build a reserve of good will with the public.

    They are learning their lesson from watching the situation with drugs for Aids and other tropical diseases. There is, in many countries, a problematic effort in getting mandatory patent licencing for generic manufacturers to sell product to African countries. The positions of the pharma industry here has garnered much public ill-will. They may be a victim of their own too successful lobbying efforts. A more careful and thought-out approach would have done the pharma industry better, instead they fought too hard at every step, didn’t prepare a good alternative, and got a system that isn’t working as well as it should.

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