Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Patents released to spur social innovation

February 2008

Patents owned by four multinationals have been put into the public domain as part of what the companies claim is an attempt to encourage the development of new products with social and environmental benefits.

The businesses – IBM, Nokia, Pitney Bowes and Sony – have made available 31 patents under the ‘Eco-Patent Commons’ programme set up by the Geneva-based World Business Council for Sustainable Development. The portfolio includes manufacturing processes to cut hazardous waste, energy and water use and to recycle mobile phones into digital cameras and other electronic devices.

WBCSD president Bjorn Stigson said the hope was that companies would ‘identify areas of common interest and establish new relationships that can lead to further development in the patented technologies.’

George Weyerhaeuser, senior fellow at the WBCSD, told EP that by making their patents available, the companies involved – IBM, Nokia, Pitney Bowes and Sony – are ‘promoting sustainable development and hoping to spur collaboration in areas important to their businesses’.

The WBCSD is now urging other companies to follow suit. ‘The notion of open innovation is gaining ground. For example, companies could be trying to attract others to do business their way, which could drive down costs or help their market reach critical mass’, Weyerhaeuser added.

Hidemi Tomita, general manager of the CSR department at Sony, said: ‘This will help transfer innovative ideas and technologies across industries to developing countries [in a way] that will bring about positive changes in the environment.’

The 31 patents represent only a fraction of those held by the four companies. IBM alone was issued with 3125 patents in 2007.

World Business Council for Sustainable Development | Global | Intellectual Property

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