A group of technology companies is offering to share some of its patents to encourage the development of environmentally friendly technologies.
IBM, Nokia, Sony and bulk-mailing equipment manufacturer Pitney-Bowes have together donated patents to the Eco-patent Commons, an organisation set up to share the patents for technology with environmental benefits.
Any organisation willing to donate a patent for environmentally friendly technology to the commons can join the group. The patents are made available for use by members and non-members alike.
So far, patents pledged to the commons cover fields such as waste water treatment, air purification, cell-phone recycling and reducing printer ink consumption. IBM has pledged 27 patents, Pitney Bowes two, and Nokia and Sony one each.
The Eco-patent Commons will be administered by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, a group which brings together CEOs in industries such as cement, electrical utilities, timber, mining and transport.
The group wants businesses to donate patents for technologies that have a positive environmental impact, but that are not related to their core business.
It hopes that access to patents in the Commons will enable businesses facing environmental challenges that have already been solved by others to develop cleaner, less energy-intensive products as a result.
The move is inspired by the success of the free and open-source software sector, where the sharing information has resulted in the creation of many new products, the group said.
Together, the companies apply for thousands of patents each year. IBM in particular regularly tops the league tables for most filings with the US Patent and Trademark Office.