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 user 2008-02-14 at 1:58:00 pm Views: 72
  • #21251

    Pitney Bowes Inc.,
    by donating some of its patents to an effort to improve the environment, is giving new meaning to the adage that one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.

    Companies normally guard their technological innovations. But concerns about the environment are prompting some multinational companies, such as Pitney Bowes, to recycle intellectual property through a program called the Eco-Patent Commons. The companies hope granting free access to some of their intellectual property will advance corporate sustainability and spur innovation to help improve the environment.Patent experts say the success of the program, launched this year by IBM Corp. in partnership with Pitney Bowes, Sony Corp. and Nokia Corp., will ultimately be determined by the value of the donated technology and whether the public can use it.

    The Eco-Patent Commons is much like the open-source software movement, in which programmers around the world freely share their computer programs.Stamford-based Pitney Bowes is donating two patents to the initiative. One is designed to reduce the amount of ink used or wasted in inkjet printers. The other, which dates from 1996, has an indirect environmental benefit because it protects electronic scales from being damaged, thereby reducing waste, according to Paul Robbertz, Pitney Bowes’ vice president/environment, health and safety.The donated patents will be available online and administered through the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, a Geneva-based group that includes about 200 of the world’s biggest companies.A representative from Pitney Bowes, a manufacturer of mailing systems that employs more than 3,000 in Connecticut, will serve on the Eco-Commons board for two years to help it get off the ground, Robbertz said.”We’re always thinking about what we can do next to push the envelope and reduce our environmental footprint,” said Robbertz, who works in Shelton.Initiatives such as the Eco-Commons, which provide access to technology without requiring individuals or businesses to pay royalties, can be “immensely helpful” in fostering innovation if the public finds the donated patents useful, said Hillary Greene, an associate professor of law and director of the intellectual property and entrepreneurship law clinic at the University of Connecticut.”Symbolically it’s a very strong statement of commitment to this cause or enterprise,” Greene said. “Ultimately, the value of this enterprise in terms of its concrete impact is going to be a function of what technology is contributed to the commons.”

    Regardless of the patents donated, the commons is a mechanism to provide greater access to technology that innovators can potentially build upon, Greene said.
    “Setting up the Eco-Patent Commons is a recognition of the fact that patents can both promote and potentially hinder innovation,” she said. “The thinking is that patents provide a spur to innovation, but once the patent is granted to a particular party it then can become a potential obstacle to subsequent innovators, and so the notion is that innovation is not a one-time deal.”Robbertz, who helped select the patents to donate, said he wanted to contribute waste-reduction technology with “very broad” applications. He considers the company’s 2000 patent for an “ink-jet printer having variable maintenance algorithm” a good example of the kind of technology that is not constrained by geographic boundaries and could have a variety of uses.”On its face, it might not sound too exciting,” he said. “But you reduce the amount of ink you use, and there is a reduction of wasted ink, and ultimately you have the reduction in the disposal of ink cartridges or those that need to be remanufactured. When you think of the number of people using ink cartridges and the breadth of environmental impact associated with ink cartridges, and you get other organizations to use this technology, it has a significant environmental benefit.”The second patent Pitney Bowes donated is aimed at reducing the amount of electrical equipment that’s discarded, he said. The patented technology provides multiple overload protection for electronic scales, but can apply to any piece of equipment that incorporates a scale, Robbertz said.”One of the critical issues in the developing world is the amount of electrical equipment that we have to manage as waste, whether it’s cellphones or Blackberries,” he said. “Anything we can do to extend the life of an electrical machine, device or component is a positive.”

    Pitney Bowes does not currently use the patents it has pledged to Eco-Commons and has not found them “business critical,” said Angelo Chaclas, vice president and deputy general counsel, intellectual property and technology law at Pitney Bowes. However, the company still considers them assets worth sharing.So far, more than 30 patents have been contributed, including several from IBM, such as a recyclable packaging material for electronic parts. Nokia has donated a patent for ways to recycle cellphones into calculators and personal digital assistants.”The Eco-Patent Commons makes us think environmentally about the design, operation and use of a product,” Robbertz said. “It forces us to think from an environmental perspective, as well as how efficient it is and how it is operated.”