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Eco-Patent Commons shares earth-friendly tech

Launch of Eco-Patents Commons puts environmental sustainability patents from IBM, Sony, Nokia, and Pitney Bowes into the public domain.

Environmental awareness has come to the race for patent bragging rights.

IBM on Monday will announce the creation of an Eco-Patents Commons--shared innovations geared at environmental sustainability--with the participation of Sony, Nokia, and Pitney Bowes.

The launch of the Eco-Patent Commons is timed with the yearly ranking of U.S. patent awards, which gives IBM the top spot for the 15th year in a row, with 3,148 patents in 2007.

The Eco-Patent Commons will start with the donation into the public domain of 31 patents that cover everything from a manufacturing process that reduces volatile compounds to a natural coagulant used to purify industrial waste water.

On Monday, a Web site that hosts the patents is scheduled to launch. The patent commons will be administered by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, a Geneva-based organization devoted to promoting sustainability in business.

Co-founder IBM, which has a program called Big Green Innovations, hopes to encourage innovation in areas of ecology and benefit commercially through the venture, said Dave Kappos, IBM's lead patent attorney.

"There's no reason that environmentally sustainable activity cannot be commercially advantageous," he said. "The patents come out of the IT industry--at least ours do--but there is cross-industry applicability."

For example, communications company Nokia submitted a patent covering recycling cell phones into new electronic devices such as clocks, calculators, and remote controls.

Participants who submit patents into the Eco-Patents Commons pledge not to enforce these patents against others who use them.

They benefit from the commons by being able to use other companies' patents. They also benefit from further innovations or cost reductions on their donations, Kappos said. The company hopes others will join and expand the patent pool.

Kappos said part of the motivation for the creation of the patents-sharing organization is the difficulty in establishing intellectual property licensing agreements across industries.

In the IT industry, cross-licensing agreements are commonplace, but in other fields, such as chemicals or energy, intellectual property tends to be hoarded, he said.

The electronics and IT industries are seeing an upswell of environmental awareness. Vendors are offering more energy-efficient products and other green technologies.

But the manufacture of electronics remains energy-intensive and involves harmful chemicals. Although there are efforts to boost recycling, electronic waste is a growing problem.

IBM and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development said they hope to attract innovations and address energy conservation, pollution prevention, better materials, recycling, and more efficient use of water.