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Journal Article

Pledging Patents for the Public Good: Rise and Fall of the Eco-Patent Commons


Hall,  Bronwyn H.
MPI for Innovation and Competition, Max Planck Society;

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Contreras, J., Hall, B. H., & Helmers, C. (2019). Pledging Patents for the Public Good: Rise and Fall of the Eco-Patent Commons. Houston Law Review, 57(1), 61-109.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0005-7B9E-0
Commons and pledge structures have been used to achieve various goals of patent holders, including the advancement of social and philanthropic aims. This Article, for the first time, analyzes the formation and structure of a widely acclaimed effort to pool patents for the promotion of green/clean technologies—the Eco-Patent Commons (EcoPC)—as well as its actual impact on technology diffusion and the factors leading to its demise in 2016. We combine quantitative econometric techniques with qualitative interviews to paint the most complete picture of this innovative and ambitious effort to date. Our quantitative results show that the patents contributed to the EcoPC were, on average, less cited than comparable patents, and that the contribution of these patents to the EcoPC did not increase their rates of citation. Moreover, there is no evidence that the availability of these patents through the EcoPC increased the diffusion of pledged inventions. Our interviews revealed significant structural and organizational issues that limited both the attractiveness of the EcoPC to new participants and its value to potential users of pledged technology. Our findings have implications for the effectiveness of patent commons in enabling the diffusion of patented technologies more broadly.