Corporate Eye

Free Patents Release Business From Gollum’s Precious

Gollum: a dirty and warped creature whose bulging eyes, skinny fingers and obsessive behaviour are now synonymous with unfettered desire and greed.

It’s tempting for many of those who argue against Capitalism and the Market State to liken big business to a swarm of Gollums, all scrabbling around in the dark, clutching their own peculiar Precious.

However such a view may be confounded by a growing initiative launched by the World Business Council For Sustainable Development (WBCSD): the Eco Patent Commons.

Launched in January this year, the programme seeks to provide a framework within which businesses can allow others to use techniques and processes which they’ve patented for free and without fear of legal action.

Available For Free

I’ll repeat that, because it’s quite a big deal! The programme enables businesses to allow others to use their patented techniques and processes for free and without fear of legal action.

The reason for this is simple. As companies develop new products they often invent a whole slew of new techniques, most of which they patent in order to protect their intellectual property.

However these techniques are almost invariably some distance from their core business, meaning they remain part of that company’s internal processes but never mature into their own standalone product or service.

By sharing these techniques companies can help to accelerate the pace of sustainable development as well as fostering an atmosphere within which innovation can take place.

What is more, because the patents are shared royalty-free the programme is totally non-commercial. WBCSD makes no profit from administrating it and neither do the companies from sharing their intellectual property.

Protection From Litigation
The companies are protected from litigation by a defensive termination clause included in the terms and conditions of their use of the Eco-Patent Commons.

Briefly put this forms an agreement between the companies that they will not sue each other for breach of intellectual property should they use one another’s patents.

There are, of course, limits to the agreement. Essentially no-one will sue another unless the latter breaks the agreement first, so it’s more of a litigation ceasefire than a complete peace treaty.

In addition the patents which can be pledged to the scheme are in a fairly narrow band of 31 types out of approximately 70,000 listed by the International Patent Commission.

Finally, the patents which can be pledged are entirely the choice of the company doing the pledging. This ensures that those parts of their process which deliver them a distinct advantage remain theirs alone.

Working For The Good Of All
This is the first real instance of what needs to become more commonplace in business behaviour: communal co-operation and acting for the greater good.

This should not be equated with the end to competition. However, inter-business protectionism simply to keep inconsequential details secret should be avoided, especially when it undermines the ability of industry as a whole to provide for peoples’ needs.

As the framework takes root, companies who remain ignorant of it run a very high risk of winding up like Gollum: clutching their Precious while the molten flames of Doom consume them.

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A former CTO, Chris has a broad and varied background. He’s been involved with blue chips, consultancies & SMEs across a wide variety of sectors and has worked in Europe, the Middle East and Australia. In 2007 he decided to combine his knowledge of business and IT with his passion for all things sustainable and has been busy writing ever since. However, his greatest ambition remains to brew the perfect cup of coffee.