World Business Council for Sustainable Development

Sharing of Innovation on Pollution and Recycling: The Case of Eco-Patent Commons

Date posted: 
Nov 29 2009

Technologies that promote pollution control and prevention, recycling, and energy efficiency have already been developed by many industries and companies. These technologies and practices were products of the research and development efforts by industries. There are benefits to be derived from sharing of these technologies. However, some of these technologies are considered to contribute to the competitive advantage of companies.

Responsible Party: 
Regulated Community
I. Objectives or Impact: 

Various technologies and practices to protect the environment have already been developed in many countries. These practices include energy conservation via improved energy efficiency, pollution prevention, and recycling. Interestingly, these practices have shown to be effective and in fact are embraced by the private sector. One of the barriers though is that these practices are considered to be a private asset. Companies may not be willing to share these technologies so as to preserve competitive advantage in terms of cost efficiency. Given this scenario, other countries or companies would not be able to access these successful and deemed effective technologies. However, it is recognized that certain patents on environment practices may not be a source of competitive advantage. These technologies can create greater benefits if recognized as a “common commodity”. Innovation, similar to that attained in the open source technology market, may be had if such commodity is accessible to other parties. The practice aims at encouraging various forms of innovations that will improve efficient use of resources in producing manufactured commodities. Innovations geared towards proper disposal of wastes are also encouraged.

II. Description of the Good Practice (Outputs): 

The Eco-Patent Common was conceived in Switzerland and New York by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Its aim is to make certain technologies accessible to potential users, specifically those who would not be able to afford royalty payments. The identified “commons” will be in a searchable website hosted by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). It will be dependent on pledges made by participating companies. Practices that can be pledged would be those pertaining to (1) energy conservation, (2) pollution prevention, (3) use of environmentally preferable inputs and materials, (4) materials reduction, and (5) recycling.

Currently, the WBCSD brings together 200 international companies with a common commitment of pushing for sustainable development though the sharing of good technologies and disposal practices.  Members are drawn from 30 countries and 20 industrial sectors. 


III. Outcomes or Results: 

The establishment of the Eco-Patent Common is expected to benefit both the contributors and the users. Participation in the Eco-Patent will likely produce global recognition for businesses pursuing activities and innovations geared towards sustainable development. At the same time, by making a practice or technology accessible, it can be a catalyst for further innovation by other users. Also, as opposed to making the innovation public or open to all, the eco-patent would still give the contributor a certain amount of control. The contributor can terminate use if users will assert patents against the contributor. As of date, various companies pledged to support the Eco-Patent Commons. IBM, Nokia, and Sony were among the first group of companies that gave commitment to the Eco-Patent Commons. Recently, Xerox, DuPont, and Bosch pledged their support to the endeavor. The newly pledged patents include technology that converts non-recyclable plastics into fertilizers, automotive technologies that would enable efficient fuel consumption, and technologies that enable recycling of optical discs.

A. Policy Framework: 

Laws of participating countries need to be harmonized to jointly recognize the possibility of participating in the Eco-Patent endeavor. Agreements, especially between private sector contributors and users, pertaining to use, scope, termination, and other conditions of use need to be spelled out clearly.

B. Budgetary and Financial Requirements: 

(not applicable)

C. Human Resources: 

In promoting this endeavor, various expertise would be required. In particular, an over-all body composed of experts from various fields need to be established. Particularly, experts on international law and Intellectual Property Rights might be needed.

D. Material Resources: 

The entire system might also be information-intensive. A sole unit devoted to collecting, cataloguing, disseminating, and monitoring the flow of technology contributions need to be established.

E. Institutional Support: 

The endeavor was made possible due to the support and commitment extended by the private sector. With novel technologies, financial support from the government might also be required. This endeavor will also be heavy on government involvement, since laws on IPR and patents need to be harmonized. Inputs and linkage with the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) might be required

F. Planning, Scheduling or Sequencing of Activities: 

(not applicable)

V. Further Information: 

World Business Council for Sustainable Development (

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