Since early 2008, there has been an interesting project in IP philanthropy. At that time, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) established an initiative called the Eco-Patent Commons. Member companies of the Eco-Patent Commons are able to “pledge” patents from their portfolios which cover technologies that provide environmental benefits. Pledging patents into the Eco-Patent Commons is not a transfer of title, but instead is a promise by the patent owner to not enforce the pledged patents against users of the technology (while maintaining rights to defensively terminate the pledge under certain circumstances).
Based on the economic conditions of the last couple of years, I am amazed that companies are willing to allow others to freely practice inventions which would otherwise generate licensing revenues. However, some companies have done exactly that.
Obviously, the member companies are not pledging patents that cover core technologies that embody their flagship products. However, the member companies are all patent savvy. They invested resources to file applications covering the inventions and pursue the applications through prosecution and patent grant, whereby it is reasonable to assume that the companies found at least some value in the inventions.
The original member companies are IBM, Nokia, Pitney Bowes, and Sony, which collectively pledged 30 patents into the Eco-Patent Commons, at its inception. Since then, five other companies have joined by pledging at least one patent and there are 95 patents held within the Eco-Patent Commons.
It will be interesting to see if the Eco-Patent Commons continues its growth in the near future. Or, perhaps increases in “green technology” implementation will prove that these patents can be monetized and entice companies to aggressively seek potential licensees.