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Green Xchange: Creating a Meta-Map of Sustainability

By Agnes Mazur

At the World Economic Forum last January in Davos, Nike, Creative Commons and Best Buy announced a new collaborative project that could change the rules of the game on sharing intellectual property. Green Xchange is a breakthrough concept allowing companies working on innovation in sustainability to share research in a way that's legal, safe and potentially even profitable.

Combining technology and the Creative Commons licensing structure, Green Xchange provides a platform where companies are able to issue licenses to other companies, allowing them to access patented research. The patent owners determine the terms for use, creating a contract that other interested parties accept before accessing the information. Patent holders can protect sensitive information by screening which types of companies may access it, and they can also set the cost for its use. The funds generated would theoretically provide a revenue stream to fund further research.

While competitors in the same market may not be keen to share research done on improving product performance, companies in vastly different fields may benefit from the very same research without posing a threat. If a company like Nike, for example, has performed extensive research on maximizing the efficiency of air pressure in sneaker design, a company that manufactures truck tires may apply the patent in a way that saves materials and money, creates a more eco-friendly product, and does not harm Nike’s sales. But in a case like this, Nike may choose to draft the terms of the patent’s use to exclude other apparel companies.

Competitive companies may find it useful to collaborate on parallel research aimed at a common goal, such as reducing their environmental impact. For example, several companies in the apparel industry may be conducting their own research on creating a more eco-friendly shoebox. By sharing this type of research, companies can cut unnecessary costs and achieve results more quickly.

The founders hope that GreenXchange will also become an invaluable tool in mapping research across industries, to help indicate where research is overlapping or lacking. Members would label each patent in detail, and these titles would be gathered in a collective pool of knowledge that Green Xchange could sort like a database. Visual technology could create a map that would allow users to literally see where resources are being focused and where breakthroughs are occurring. The beauty of it is that the map would eventually generate itself as more and more patents were added to the pool.

The main obstacle in persuading companies to share their valuable knowledge is fear. Up to this point, patents have been regarded as something to be guarded and protected, but Green Xchange challenges companies to view them as something transferable, and potentially profitable when shared. This is perhaps the major innovation of the Green Xchange concept.

The project is currently in its nascent stages, but the implications of its effects are already gigantic. If Green Xchange succeeds in changing the way we think about transferring intellectual property and benefiting from shared ideas, it could usher us into a new realm of thinking of sustainability (and potentially other fields like medicine) as a truly collaborative endeavor.

Learn more about GreenXchange from this video:

Agnes Mazur is a sustainability enthusiast based in San Jose, California. After completing her studies in Political Science, Spanish, and French at San Jose State University, she worked as a reporter in her native city of Warsaw, Poland. She has since returned to the Bay Area where she contributes to various efforts in sustainability including organizing an urban gardening project, researching up-and-coming green businesses, and attending various conferences about environmental sustainability. She hopes her love of world travel, nature and innovation can help change the world.

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Great find. One of the coolest things I've heard of in a while. Creative Commons is doing such interesting things-- I'm glad somebody's figured out how to make it work for sustainability issues.

We ought to be minimizing our use of resources in short supply, and maximizing our use of resources in unlimited supply. Energy is limited, knowledge isn't. I hope we ease off intellectual property rights and start capping/taxing things we ought to be using less of.

Thanks for posting this.

Posted by: Scott Gast on 5 May 09

It will be interesting to follow this innovative idea!

Patent protection has helped to both foster innovation...and also to stifle cooperation the the distribution of good ideas. Josh Farley, an ecological economist here at the University of Vermont, who teaches about this issue, in online and Vermont based courses offered at the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics and the Institute for Global Sustainability

Here is what he had to say about the issue in a forum post at ""

"Clearly inventors need to be awarded for their inventions. I would favor publicly funded salaries or prizes, with information freely available to all afterwards. Otherwise, how do we get around the problem of private property rights on refrigerants that do not deplete the ozone? Such technologies exist but are available only upon payment. China and India can't afford them and we destroy the ozone layer. This is not a hypothetical case. How do we avoid this while maintaining private property rights on information?"

Posted by: Noah Pollock on 10 May 09

Please check out they offer a great model for sustainability. let me know what you think

Posted by: Chris on 12 May 09

What a great idea! It can be a way for companies across the globe and involved in different markets to share new technologies and ideas for the good of the planet instead of fearing competition.

I'm going to find out more about this iniciative and the GreenXchange, thanks for this insightfull article Agnes.

Trane Heat Pump

Posted by: james mentz on 19 May 10

Competitive companies may find it useful to collaborate on parallel research aimed at a common goal, such as reducing their environmental impact. For example, several companies in the apparel industry may be conducting their own research on creating a more eco-friendly shoebox. By sharing this type of research, companies can cut unnecessary costs and achieve results more quickly.

What do you say ?

Posted by: Andy on 21 Jul 10

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