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 user 2008-02-14 at 1:59:00 pm Views: 56
  • #20857

    Pitney Bowes Inc.,
    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

    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
    “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.”