Companies usually guard their patents as if they were crown jewels. But we have already seen some change in the digital world, where open source software has forced industry leaders to be less possessive about their intellectual property.
Earlier this month, IBM Corp., Nokia Oyj and Sony Corp. collectively gave away 31 patents to a project called Eco-Patent Commons, a platform where companies share intellectual property that they believe will help combat pollution and save energy. Nokia, for instance, has given away the rights on a technology that will use old phones to make new electronic gizmos such as calculators. IBM has gifted 27 of the 31 patents that the commons now has.
Patents are an incentive for companies to spend on research. But they effectively grant monopoly rights. They sit uncomfortably with the belief in free markets. This new initiative could be a way out of the current deadlock.