Patent pledges, open IP, or patent pools? Developing taxonomies in the thicket of terminologies

Recently, a range of organisations, including car and consumer electronics manufacturers, have applied so-called patent pledges. A patent pledge is a publicly announced intervention by patent-owning entities (‘pledgers’) to out-license active patents to the restricted or unrestricted public free from or bound to certain conditions for a reasonable or no monetary compensation. Despite growing research to better understand this phenomenon, the underlying terminology remains contradictory. We apply an inductive research approach using qualitative coding to analyse 60 patent pledges made by 80 organisations. Based on this analysis, we propose a three-dimensional taxonomy that distinguishes eight types of patent pledges. Extending this taxonomy using case examples, we then propose a generalised patent licensing taxonomy. This second taxonomy can be used to distinguish patent licensing strategies, including other frequently used approaches, such as patent pools and cross-licenses. Finally, we use the patent pledge taxonomy to illustrate how patent owners change their licensing strategies over time and how it can support strategic decision processes within an organisation. We contribute to the field of patent management by building an ontology of patent pledges through proposing a definition and eight types. The patent licensing taxonomy enables organisations to devise and choose licensing strategies, and to illustrate licensing approaches of competitors, for instance.

Published in PLoS ONE 14(8): e0221411. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0221411.