Through a patent pool, two or more patent-holders agree to share their intellectual property with each other or with third parties through the negotiation of licences.
Patent pools can serve different purposes: to promote competition, to facilitate innovation, and/or to set industry standards. They can be designed to benefit patent-holders, product manufacturers and/or the public interest. In the past, patent pools have been organized by patent-holders, by manufacturers, by non-profit institutions, and/or by governments. In short, there are many different purposes of patent pools, and many different ways to manage them.
Patent pools have been in existence for more than 150 years, in areas of technology ranging from sewing machines, shoe machinery, folding beds and aircraft patents to those dealing with video and audio compression technology, DVDs, animal cloning technology, rice and agriculture.
A patent pool was proposed in 2005 to speed up the manufacture and increase the availability of a vaccine for SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). The World Health Organization has identified patent pools as one way to increase access to essential medicines in developing countries. In February 2009, GlaxoSmithKline announced a patent pool for neglected tropical diseases. The Medicines Patent Pool will be the first patent pool for HIV medicines.
A description of previous patent pools for other technologies is available from Knowledge Ecology International here [pdf].