It’s a new phase of patent warring that we’ve been witnessing in the automobile world in the last few months. In June 2014, Tesla Motors broke open its patent wall and promised to not initiate any lawsuit against manufacturers using its patented electrical vehicle technology in good faith. Following the steps of this samaritan, in January this year Toyota opened the freebie for manufacturers to use its patented fuel cell vehicle technology until 2020 and its hydrogen fuel and supply patents till eternity – again in “good faith”.
Who’s riding the new wave?
While the two rival clean transportation automakers are battling it out for mind and market share, who is going to ride the wave higher?
For one, Toyota has opened up its FCV patents only for a five-year period, which is an extremely small time to allow traction of the technology in the global market. Besides, the company has sold only 700 vehicles across the world in 2014 and its projected figures point to the sale of about 3,000 vehicles in the US only by 2017. Tesla, on the contrary, has been an active player in the segment with its figures pointing to the sale of about one lakh vehicles between 2014 and 2015.
Fuel cell vs. Lithium ion – which is a better powerhouse?
Now we know that Tesla dominates lithium-ion battery technology – an integral component in its electric vehicles. The company is developing a manufacturing facility in Nevada that will produce these batteries in bulk packs from 2020. But it must be noted that Tesla has opened up only 172 patents and 123 patent applications, which seems to fall behind the patent portfolios of Ford, Honda and General Motors.
Hydrogen fuel cell technology is touted as ‘emission-free’, with only ‘pure water’ expelled through a tail pipe. While it delivers a greater range in comparison to the current battery used in EVs, it’s quick to recharge. However, the challenge that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is infrastructure. Tesla, on the other hand, owns 97 Supercharger stations across the United States.
In a bid to overcome this infrastructure lag for FCVs, Toyota’s 3,350 FCV patents and about 290 related to high-pressure hydrogen tanks should come to the aid of the electric vehicle manufacturing industry. At least 70 Toyota patents that are open for royalty free use for eternity primarily focus on production and supply of hydrogen for refill stations – an extremely critical entity of the fuel-cell vehicle market.
Industry pundits are questioning the motives behind the two rivals opening up their patent portfolios for free use. It’s been less than a year since these patents have been made public and hence, it’s a little too early to predict if the world is set to witness a rise in the number cleaner transportation vehicles. But these two automakers have definitely proven a point – patents can be used to fuel innovation as well, instead of simply standing as tools to assert rights.
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