Com­pa­nies share green-friendly technology

The Times-Tribune - - Health & Science -

Q: What is “green patent shar­ing” and how does it work? — BILL GIL­MORE, AL­BU­QUERQUE, NEW MEX­ICO

A: The idea be­hind green patent shar­ing is that re­searchers, in­ven­tors and com­pa­nies can share the rights to make, use or in­cor­po­rate cer­tain patented tech­nolo­gies that ben­e­fit the en­vi­ron­ment, the­o­ret­i­cally ex­pe­dit­ing the de­vel­op­ment of en­ergy ef­fi­ciency, pol­lu­tion pre­ven­tion, re­cy­cling, wa­ter con­ser­va­tion and other ad­vances for the com­mon good.

The con­cept of patent shar­ing isn’t new. Back in the 1850s the four ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ers of sewing ma­chines in the U.S. got tired of fight­ing over patent in­fringe­ment and joined ranks in a patent shar­ing pool. Out­side man­u­fac­tur­ers would have to pay li­cens­ing rights to the pool, but oth­er­wise the four part­ner com­pa­nies were free to make use of any and all shared patents.

It took an­other 150 years, though, for green patent shar­ing to in­sti­tu­tion­al­ize. In 2008, the World Busi­ness Coun­cil for Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment cre­ated the Eco-Patent Com­mons, an online ex­change of green­friendly patents that can be down­loaded and used for free. Eleven com­pa­nies— Bosch, Dow Du Pont, Fuji, HP, IBM, Nokia, Pit­ney Bowes, Ri­coh, Sony, Tai­sei and Xerox—have pledged over 100 dif­fer­ent patents to the Com­mons to try to en­cour­age new in­no­va­tions in sus­tain­abil­ity and con­ser­va­tion.

“Com­pa­nies are in­creas­ingly re­al­iz­ing the value of part­ner­ing and shar­ing ex­per­tise on sus­tain­abil­ity is­sues,” said Wayne Balta, IBM’s cor­po­rate en­vi­ron­men­tal af­fairs VP. “The Eco Patent Com­mons pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity for busi­ness to share in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty that can fur­ther sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment.”

A few ex­am­ples of patents avail­able in the com­mons in­clude: a bat­tery re­cy­cling kiosk for con­sumers to swap out their used bat­ter­ies for new re­place­ments; a process that elim­i­nates the need for an­tiox­i­dant me­tal coat­ings in the assem­bly of mi­crochips and cir­cuit boards; a lab de­signed or­gan­ism that lights up to in­di­cate the pres­ence of pol­lu­tants in wa­ter treat­ment fa­cil­i­ties; and en­vi­ron­men­tally su­pe­rior re­frig­er­ants to re­place ozonede­stroy­ing flu­o­ro­car­bons. These shared patents and dozens more are ac­ces­si­ble via WIPO GREEN, an online mar­ket­place for sus­tain­able technology.

The con­cept of green patent shar­ing came up re­cently with the world­wide launch of Al Gore’s new movie, “An In­con­ve­nient Se­quel: Truth to Power.” The film doc­u­ments a De­cem­ber 2015 phone call Gore made to try to con­vince So­lar City CEO Lyn­don Rive to be the cor­po­rate hero of the Paris cli­mate ac­cord by of­fer­ing hold­out In­dia free use of his com­pany’s pho­to­voltaic patents to ease the costs of, and has­ten the coun­try’s tran­si­tion away from, fos­sil fu­els. In­dian ne­go­tia­tors had been com­plain­ing that they could not get ac­cess to enough credit to pay for the ex­pen­sive tran­si­tion to so­lar on their own.

It isn’t clear by the end of the movie whether Rive ex­tended the of­fer (he did) or whether it had any im­pact on In­dia’s de­ci­sion to join the rest of the world in even­tu­ally sign­ing onto the Paris ac­cord (In­dian ne­go­tia­tors say the patent shar­ing of­fer wasn’t a fac­tor). Re­gard­less, there’s been no ev­i­dence of any in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty trans­fer to date, al­though So­lar City “for­mally in­vited” In­dian of­fi­cials to visit its head­quar­ters in 2016, so the wheels could be in mo­tion.

EARTHTALK is a trade­mark of the non­profit Earth Ac­tion Net­work. To do­nate, visit www. earthtalk.org. Send ques­tions to ques­tion@earthtalk.org.

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