OAKLAND, Calif. — When the World Business Council on Sustainable Development in January 2008 launched the Eco-Patents Commons in partnership with IBM, Sony, Nokia and Pitney-Bowes, it was an unprecedented step in the development of clean technologies. Here were leading companies -- and, in IBM's case, the U.S. company with the most patents, year after year -- giving away ideas so that other companies could either apply to their own operations or work from to develop their own, new and patentable inventions.

Now, just nine months after the launch of the Commons, three more companies have joined, and have more than doubled the total number of eco-patents available with their new commitments.

Together, Xerox, Dupont and Bosch, along with new patents from Sony, have committed 53 new patents to the 31 that currently on the list. among the new additions are patents from Xerox that makes it faster, cheaper and more efficient to remove hazardous wastes from water and soil; a technique from DuPont to turn otherwise non-recyclable plastics into fertilizer; technologies from Sony to recycle optical discs more easily; and a handful of technologies from Bosch that can aid in lowering vehicle fuel consumption and emissions, as well as turn waste heat from vehicles into energy.

Although the original patents have been freed from restrictions for the past nine months, with few exceptions neither the original patent holders nor the WBCSD knows exactly how far they've spread from the source. Unless a company or inventor files a patent for a new technology and cites the Eco-Patent as prior art, or if a company or inventor approaches the original patent-holder to collaborate on a new use, there were no requirements for disclosure built into the Commons' process -- an intentional step in the Commons' development.

"We thought that when we're already launching a project as different as this is, we didn't want to do anything that would hold it back," explained Wayne Balta, IBM's Vice President of Environmental Affairs. "We didn't want to say, 'here's a patent, but before you use it you have to call us.' Is it like a hall pass to go to the bathroom? If [the process] is not adding any value, then it's only going to slow down a project that's too new for that."

Overall, Xerox pledged 11 new patents to the Commons, relating to its 2-PHASE Extraction technology, which Xerox has used to remove more than 98 percent of volatile organic solvents from shallow groundwater in contaminated sites.

"We developed the 2-PHASE technology more than 15 years ago to help us remediate sites more quickly and at less expense," Patty Calkins, Xerox's VP of Environment, Health and Safety, said in a statement. "We believe it will be a valuable tool for others, such as the local dry cleaners or gas stations, who need to clean up volatile organic compounds."

In addition to the technology to quickly decompose rigid plastics into fertilizer, DuPont's four patents also come from the company's Lux line of technology that is used to detect pollution in soil, water and air; DuPont expects that companies working in, among others, the food and beverage, agriculture, cosmetics and chemical industries.

The full list of eco-patents is available on the WBCSD's website at: http://www.wbcsd.org/web/epc.