Who Invented the Hybrid Anyway?

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Toyota and Ford have always been the top dogs when it comes to filing patents in automotive sector. However, the most essential, influential and backbone of hybrid vehicle patents were filed by Severinsky of Paice.

Prius leans towards Severinsky

Now, Severinsky’s story in itself is quiet interesting. Born and raised in the erstwhile Soviet Union, he earned a PhD from the Institute for Precision Measurements in Radioelectronics and Physics in Moscow in 1975 before moving the USA in 1978. The timing was perfect. In 1979, US was hit by the oil crisis and it fuelled Severinsky’s idea to create fuel efficient cars.

In 1992, Alexi ‘Alex’ Severinsky, a teacher at the University of Maryland,  established Paice, LLC with help of the University’s incubator program. Associated with Paice, which stands for Power Assisted Internal Combustion Engines, Severinsky filed his first patent titled “Hybrid electric vehicle”(US 5,343,970) which describes a hybrid vehicle that has a combustion engine and battery powered electric motor which can work individually and in tandem.

The patent essentially describes a technology which all modern full hybrids, including the Prius, use – a high-voltage power-train. The electric motor can also operate as a generator to charge the batteries from regenerative braking and otherwise.

In 1998, he went on to patent an improvized version of the technology and earned patent US 6,209,672 titled “Hybrid vehicle”. In this invention he outdid his previous work by including multiple electric motors and an even more intelligent control system for the hybrid vehicle.

Toyota succumbs to Severinsky

In 2004, Paice decided to stand up against the mighty Toyota and its exhaustive patent portfolio, due to their immense confidence in Severinsky’s work. In a six-year long-drawn legal battle which included multiple courts, allegations of willful infringement due to Toyota’s continued selling of its hybrids, introduction of new granted patents in the lawsuit and a royalty of 98$ per vehicle asked as damages by the end of it all, the two parties settled matters between themselves in 2010.

Toyota decided to finally acknowledge Severinsky’s invention and subsequently it was released in the press as “The parties agree that, although certain Toyota vehicles have been found to be equivalent to a Paice patent, Toyota invented, designed and developed the Prius and Toyota’s hybrid technology independent of any inventions of Dr. Severinsky and Paice as part of Toyota’s long history of innovation.” Toyota also decided to license all of Paice’s patents.

Alex Severinsky with his invention. Source: http://bit.ly/17AKnHe

Alex Severinsky with his invention.
Source: http://bit.ly/17AKnHe

Finally, Severinsky as the proud father of the modern hybrid said, “Finally people understand the merits of what I invented and give it the proper value. Toyota is the leading technology company and finally appreciates the value of the invention.” As of today, Paice is involved in legal battles with Ford and Hyundai-Kia to settle infringement contentions.

Is Severinsky the rightful father of the modern hybrid?

The common misconception people have when they come across the name Severinsky and his legal battle with Toyota is that he was the inventor of Hybrid. But that’s just not the story. (Read Hybrid makes a Century)

Hybrids have existed for over a century now and the mere idea of having a combustion engine and an electric motor in a vehicle was never the crux of his invention. In fact, his invention was the intelligent control and back and forth switching of the vehicle power from combustion engine to electric motor based on the vehicle’s drum roll speed, throttle position, battery load, engine load, etc. What this did in effect was improve the fuel efficiency of the vehicle drastically.

Personally, being a petrol-head, I have never really been in favour of hybrids. They are slow and they are not loud. And for all the respect I have for the car industry, I never called Prius a proper car. But, it was Severinsky and Toyota’s innovation that played a key role in developing the hybrid car industry. They have filled several gaps in hybrid combustion and are giving us a glimpse of the future – Mclaren P1, Porsche 918 Spyder, LaFerrari, Lamborghini Asterion and BMW i8 –cars which made me change my thinking about hybrids.

(Featured image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Apteracar2.jpg)

Aditya Katare
Aditya Katare

Travelling is synonymous with Aditya. He enjoys driving around in his car and hopes to travel into space soon. Until then, he's here to dole out blogs on patents that enhance the automobile industry.

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