Royalty-Free Environmental Patents

October 2013
The Environmental Law Institute hosts the web platform for the Eco-Patent Commons. Eco-Patent Commons is a collection of patents pledged for royalty-free use by companies and intellectual property rights holders around the world to make it easier and faster to innovate and implement processes that improve and protect the global environment. In addition, ELI has assumed stewardship of Eco-Patent Commons as the chief administrator for the site.

“ELI is honored to host Eco-Patent Commons. Technology transfer is a key component in tackling environmental issues. These leading companies have hit upon a vital way to demonstrate corporate leadership in environmental protection,” noted former ELI President, John Cruden. “ELI is delighted to be a partner with them on Eco-Patent Commons and looks forward to expanding and broadening the impact of the important intellectual property being made available through this effort. We hope this effort will attract other companies to join us in making innovative technology available to the public to advance the environment.”

The Eco-Patent Commons was launched in January 2008 by IBM, Nokia, Pitney Bowes, Sony, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and now boasts about 100 patents pledged by 11 companies representing a variety of industries worldwide. This represents the first organized effort to make patents available—without royalty—to address a wide range of sustainability issues including waste, pollution, global warming and energy demands.

“IBM is proud to have been a founding member of Eco-Patent Commons, and we are very pleased to have the Environmental Law Institute as its host,” said Wayne Balta, IBM Vice President for Corporate Environmental Affairs and Product Safety. “We look forward to expanding the reach of these inventions that can benefit the environment.”

The Business Case

Sharing knowledge and technology that protect the environment is one way to address a wide range of challenges and threats to our planet. One vital way to share such knowledge and technology is through making patented technology available. Leading businesses and universities may hold some patents that provide environmental benefit and do not represent an essential source of business advantage for them. For example, a company may have patented something to protect its own right to use the technology, but it has no concern about others using it also.

As has been demonstrated by the open source software community, the free sharing of knowledge can provide a fertile ground for new collaboration and innovation. Sharing environmental patents can help others become more eco-efficient and operate in a more environmentally sustainable manner—enabling technology innovation to meet social innovation.

The Objectives of the Eco-Patent Commons
  • To provide an avenue by which innovations and solutions may be easily shared to accelerate and facilitate implementation to protect the environment and perhaps lead to further innovation.
  • To promote and encourage cooperation and collaboration between businesses that pledge patents and potential users to foster further joint innovations and the advancement and development of solutions that benefit the environment.

Open to all, the Eco-Patent Commons provides a unique leadership opportunity for global business to make a difference— sharing their innovations in support of sustainable development.

How the Eco-Patent Commons works:

Patents are pledged by members (companies or other intellectual property right owners) that will directly or indirectly benefit the environment and are made available for free use by all, subject to defensive termination. The patents are identified in a searchable Patent Database on the Eco-Patent Commons website. Examples of pledged Eco-Patent Commons patents may be found here.

Examples of environmental benefits patented inventions may provide:

  • Energy conservation or efficiency
  • Pollution prevention (source reduction, waste reduction)