A group of technology companies are to share some of their patents in order to encourage the development of environmentally friendly-technologies.

IBM, Nokia, Sony and Pitney-Bowes have donated to the Eco-Patent Commons (EPC), and in return patents are freely usable by other companies who add their own patents to the EPC.

Contrary to general industry practise, IBM, Nokia, Pitney-Bowes and Sony are cross-sharing technology patents that benefit the environment. Thirty one of their patents are being placed in an open source-style public domain, administered by the Geneva-based World Business Council for Sustainable Development, a CEO-led, global association of some 200 companies dealing exclusively with business and sustainable development.

"The Eco-Patent Commons provides a unique and significant leadership opportunity for business to make a difference - sharing their innovations and solutions in support of sustainable development," said Bjorn Stigson, president of the WBCSD. "The Eco-Patent Commons also provides an opportunity for companies and other entities to identify areas of common interest and establish new relationships that can lead to further development in the patented technologies and elsewhere."

Generally speaking, technology companies guard their patents carefully. They either prevent other companies using them or licence their use for a fee. The patents included here are being treated as free for use as long as the 'using' organisations contribute their own patents to the EPC.

"Innovation to address environmental issues will require both the application of technology as well as new models for sharing intellectual property among companies in different industries," said IBM research grandee Dr John E. Kelly III. "In addition to enabling new players to engage in protecting the environment, the free exchange of valuable intellectual property will accelerate work on the next level of environmental challenges. We strongly urge other companies to contribute to the Eco-Patent Commons."

Examples of the environmental benefits expected for pledged patents include:-

- Energy conservation or improved energy or fuel efficiency
- Pollution prevention (source reduction, waste reduction)
- Use of environmentally preferable materials or substances
- Water or materials use reduction
- Increased recycling opportunity.

"From Nokia we have pledged a patent designed to help companies safely re-use old mobile phones by transforming them into new products like digital cameras, data monitoring devices or other electronic items," said Donal O'Connell, Nokia's director of intellectual property. "Recycling the computing power of mobile phones in this way could significantly increase the reuse of materials in the electronics industry."

Membership in the Eco-Patent Commons is open to all individuals and companies pledging one or more patents. The selection and submission of each organisation's patents for pledging is at the organisation's discretion.