About the Eco-Patent Commons

The mission of the Eco-Patent Commons is to manage a collection of patents pledged for unencumbered use by companies and intellectual property rights holders around the world to make it easier and faster to innovate and implement industrial processes that improve and protect the global environment.

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. This is 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.

The Business Case

The Commons concept recognizes that some patents that provide environmental benefit may represent the jewels of a company's kingdom. Asking an enterprise or University to relinquish such key assets is not the objective of the Commons.

However, 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, after patenting an invention, a company may be willing to forego royalties when ecological use of the technology can improve the physical, economic, and business environment in which the company operates; other businesses focus more on growth and opportunities that can benefit all.

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.

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

The Commons is open to all—with global participation by businesses in diverse industry sectors, universities, research centers, etc.

The number of patents each business wishes to pledge to the Commons is left to its discretion. Many businesses do not routinely patent innovations that benefit the environment, so some participants will have only a small number of patents to pledge. Submitting even one patent is sufficient for participation and can make a significant difference in helping to further 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. 

Which patents are pledged:

  • The patents a business wishes to offer the Commons is left to the discretion of each business.
  • The patents must be for innovations that provide “environmental benefits.” These “environmental benefits” may be a direct purpose of the patents, such as a technology to accelerate groundwater remediation, but can also be less direct as in manufacturing or business processes that lead to a reduction in hazardous waste generation or energy consumption.
  • Businesses can pledge any number of patents in order to participate in the Commons. To join the Commons, only one patent of a business need be pledged. While it is intended for the Commons to grow and include a robust number of patents over time, businesses which may only hold one or a small number of relevant patents are welcome to participate and support this global initiative.

Examples of environmental benefits patented inventions may provide:

  • Energy conservation or efficiency
  • Pollution prevention (source reduction, waste reduction)
  • Use of environmentally preferable materials or substances
  • Materials reduction
  • Increased recycling ability

Benefits for members companies or other patent holders (that have pledged patents):

  • The Eco-Patent Commons provides global recognition for the businesses whose leadership is contributing to the acceleration of sustainable development.
  • It is an efficient channel through which businesses can share their innovations.
  • It provides a catalyst for further innovation and facilitates potential new opportunities for business collaboration.
  • It helps to introduce the pledger's technology and vision of the future to the industry and businesses in the industry – who may select the pledger's technology and adopt the pledger's vision.
  • In contrast to dedicating patents to the public, the Commons allows the pledger to terminate as to those who assert patents against the pledger.
  • With respect to defensive termination, one pledger may assert patents, outside the field of the Commons, against another pledger without losing rights inside the Commons field.

Benefits for patent users and our planet:

  • The Eco-Patent Commons provides free access to patents that can be leveraged by others to improve the environmental aspects of their operations.
  • The information is readily available in one easily accessible place.
  • The Commons provides an avenue by which those who are facing a challenge that may have environmental impact can connect with those who already have had success in meeting that challenge.

Next steps:

If you are interested in helping benefit the world through the Eco-Patent Commons:

1) See how you can join this initiative by downloading additional information and application materials here.

2) Contact any of the representatives listed here to express your interest and discuss joining the Eco-Patent Commons.

3) Contact your Intellectual Property (IP) function and examine your business's patent portfolio. Identify patents your business may want to submit to the Eco-Patent Commons. Many businesses do not routinely patent innovations that benefit the environment, so some participants will have only a small number of patents to pledge. Submitting even one patent is sufficient for participation and can make a significant difference in helping to further sustainable development.