CEF Spotlight

Welcome to the Eco-Patent Commons

By Wayne Balta, Vice President, Corporate EnvironmentalWSB1 high res
Affairs, IBM Corporation

Companies are increasingly realizing the value of partnering and sharing expertise on sustainability issues. The Eco-Patent Commons provides an opportunity for business to share intellectual property that can further sustainable development. The Eco-Patent Commons was designed to facilitate the use of existing innovation that is protective of the environment, and encourage collaboration for new innovation through an online collection of environmentally beneficial patents pledged by the member companies for free use by anyone.

Since the launch of Eco-Patent Commons in 2008, about 100 patents have been pledged by 11 companies, several of whom are CEF members, representing a variety of industries worldwide: Bosch, Dow, Fuji-Xerox, HP, IBM, Nokia, Pitney Bowes, Ricoh, Sony, Taisei and Xerox. The Environmental Law Institute became the host organization for the Eco-Patent Commons in 2013, and since 2014, Eco-Patent Commons is proud to partner with WIPO Green, which provides a marketplace for sustainable technology.

While the Eco-Patent Commons clearly has an important philanthropic aspect, its benefits to the businesses pledging patents go beyond philanthropy. By forming a Commons, members and non-members obtain free access to patents pledged by others. Commons members have identified patents that others may use to benefit the environment by, for example, preserving resources, eliminating waste and pollutants, cleaning water, and the like (subject to defensive measures). Inventions have ranged from cleaner solvents to recycling cell phone components to ecological packaging to resource management… In addition, the Commons provides the opportunity to leverage the pledged patents through further innovation, collaboration efforts, and other relationships with businesses that have similar interests.

In addition to improving the world we live in, the Commons fosters the sharing of innovation that can open opportunities for businesses to act responsibly and/or to enter or develop new businesses relating to further environmental improvement.

Key features of the Eco-Patent Commons include:

  • Any business pledging one or more patents is welcome to become a member
  • No membership fees are currently assessed
  • Patents submitted to the Commons are left to the discretion of each business
  • There is no requirement for pledgers to provide ongoing support to the businesses interested in using the patents they have pledged, although parties can pursue such opportunities
  • Payments of maintenance fees on pledged patents are at the sole discretion of the patent holder

The Eco-Patent Commons is a unique opportunity for global business to make a difference—sharing innovation to foster sustainable development. If your business wishes to join other environmental leaders, please visit the Eco-Patent Commons Join page, review the materials and submit the requested signed form and attached documents. Alternatively, for further information please contact either: Scott Schang, Executive Vice President, Environmental Law Institute at ecopatent@eli.org or Steve Bushnell, Programme Manager, IBM Corporate Environmental Affairs at stephenw_bushnell2@uk.ibm.com.


WSB1 high res

Wayne Balta is the vice president of corporate environmental affairs and product safety at IBM. He has global responsibility for environmental affairs, energy efficiency, chemical management, and toxicology, as well as product safety and related hardware compliance functions. In addition to his role as IBM’s chief environmental executive, he is a member of IBM’s Growth & Transformation Team, a select group of IBM’s senior executives that drives growth pursuant to innovation and shifts in business and technology. He is also on IBM’s Global Enablement Team for Kenya and East Africa. He is IBM’s partnership executive for Yale University. He also serves as IBM’s senior location executive in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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