Eco-Patents and Global Innovation Commons
The Eco-Patent Commons, hosted by the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and launched in January 2008, has gained recent attention through inclusion on the GOOD 100 selection of innovative people, ideas and projects. The full database current lists 100 patents donated by IBM, DuPont, Xerox and others - from an aqueous soldermask to wastewater treatment processes.
Users of the Eco-Patent Commons are not required to report their usage back to WBCSD, so the effectiveness of the project is difficult to assess, as acknowledged on the faq page.
Far more patents are listed in the Global Innovation Commons, a country-by-country listing of patented technologies available for application - or arguably so.
[Martin] says designs for green gadgets, from hybrid cars to wind turbines, are now in the public domain and freely available -- if you know how to find them. ... Most recently, in collaboration with the World Bank's Information for Development Program, he launched an online database of gadgets whose lapsed patents in advanced energy, water and agricultural technologies represent potential license savings worth, according to the World Bank, more than $2 trillion. ...
Patents, he says, keep getting issued because even though they cover the same ground, they're worded in different ways. So car brakes that charge an electric car become a "regenerative brake device having a driving wheel, an electric motor and a battery," or a wind turbine becomes "a power house and vanes rotating in the wind." ...
What Martin -- and those who work with him at M-CAM -- say they found is that one in three patents registered today on energy-saving technology duplicate gadgets that were first dreamed up in the wake of the 1970s oil crisis and are now freely available.
The process of searching the Global Innovation Commons goes like this. After logging in, one sees a list of technology areas: solar cells, tidal power, water pumps, soil management and so on. After choosing a field of technology, one selects a country of interest. Where is the technology is to be applied?
Then one sees a list, by source company, of available innovations. For example, General Electric has pioneered 107 innovations in the area of hydroelectric generation that might be applied in Madagascar.
According to the database, fewer of these hydroelectric innovations would be available in Russia or the United States, because of more restrictive interpretations of the patent law. Innovations are listed in four categories: ones for which the patents have expired, been abandoned, or been disallowed - as well as for which there are no family members within the country.
Needless to say, this work has not made M-CAM popular [with some interested parties], as Martin describes in the Der Spiegel article.
The Global Innovation Commons requires a type of share-alike agreement, i.e. that technological improvements to the patents found through the database be shared. It also requires that users provide reference to the Global Innovation Commons.