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How Toyota Is Using Patents To Slow The Growth Of Hybrid Vehicles

from the what-a-shame dept

Slashdot points us to a WSJ story about how Toyota has purposely built up a patent thicket so thick that basically no one can build hybrid vehicles without paying up:
Since it started developing the gas-electric Prius more than a decade ago, Toyota has kept its attorneys just as busy as its engineers, meticulously filing for patents on more than 2,000 systems and components for its best-selling hybrid. Its third-generation Prius, which hit showrooms in May, accounts for about half of those patents alone.

Toyota's goal: to make it difficult for other auto makers to develop their own hybrids without seeking licensing from Toyota, as Ford Motor Co. already did to make its Escape hybrid and Nissan Motor Co. has for its Altima hybrid.
Defenders of the patent system often say that there's no problem: others should just "invent around" the patents. But when companies create a patent thicket like this, that makes it effectively impossible. The end result? We all lose. This makes it that much more expensive and difficult for others to innovate, because they need to allocate money to Toyota, rather than to their own innovations. It slows down Toyota as well, since it's devoting so much time and effort to lawyers. And it massively slows down the market. Rather than competing on innovation and a better product, the focus is on patents. And since it slows down competitors it means Toyota doesn't need to innovate as fast either. In the meantime... not only does the economy suffer, but so does the environment.

Of course, we can't just blame Toyota for this. It's the system that created such a scenario. In fact, Toyota recently went through a long and arduous patent battle with someone else over patents held by that guy -- resulting in Toyota having to pay a tax on every hybrid it makes. So, perhaps it's no wonder that it's trying to gobble up as many patents as possible around hybrids, if only to have the necessary "stockpile" for future patent battles against competitors. Once again, it's the entire patent system that's leading to this questionable result that harms everyone... except the lawyers, of course.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    John Doe, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 12:16pm

    So what is the alternative?

    Far be it for a company to actually compete on product quality/performance/price. Instead, they compete in the courts. It is a sad state of affairs with no end in sight.

     

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    Isaac Ludwig, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 12:17pm

    wow, I thought the 1st gen Insight was the 1st...

    mass-produced hybrid.
    I sit corrected. I take it Honda pays Toyota and has been
    since 1999. I'll bet that burns the suits up in the Honda boardroom.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 12:39pm

    If most of the simulus package is going to pay for royalties, wouldn't it make sense to reform copyright and patent law?

     

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    DB, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 12:47pm

    Agree with patents in this case

    I know I am going to flamed for this, but here goes.

    While I am against of abuse of patents, I think that is not really the case here. Toyota was researching and building hybrid cars, when almost everyone else was building SUV's. They took a big risk doing what they did and should be allowed to profit from it.
    There may be some abusive patents in the portfolio, but I suspect the vast majority come from genuine innovation on Toyota's part.
    If anything, I think the whining about Toyota's patents is coming from american car companies that had plenty of chances to innovate and be prepared for this, but chose not to. They are now paying the price.

     

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    DB, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 12:48pm

    Agree with patents in this case

    I know I am going to flamed for this, but here goes.

    While I am against of abuse of patents, I think that is not really the case here. Toyota was researching and building hybrid cars, when almost everyone else was building SUV's. They took a big risk doing what they did and should be allowed to profit from it.
    There may be some abusive patents in the portfolio, but I suspect the vast majority come from genuine innovation on Toyota's part.
    If anything, I think the whining about Toyota's patents is coming from american car companies that had plenty of chances to innovate and be prepared for this, but chose not to. They are now paying the price.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 12:48pm

    There's also a pretty big patent thicket that adversely affects healthcare costs too.

     

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    diesel mcfadden, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 12:52pm

    I have different feelings on reform for software patents and copyright claims versus mechanical devices with much slower innovation, lead times, and risk profiles.

    In this case, Toyota really did invest for more than a decade while everyone else stood idle. Also, if Honda has been paying on those patents since 1999, they'll be coming up on expiration soon (relatively). Not sure how "thick" the thicket is, but Toyota should get something for their trouble.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 12:55pm

    Ford DOES NOT license their hybrid system from Toyota. This is a common misconception. Toyota sued Ford when they came out with their Escape Hybrid, but the court ruled in Ford's favor saying that Ford developed it independently, off of the concepts developed and patented by TRW in the 60's. Toyota and Ford have joint patents on several Hybrid systems, but Ford does not pay Toyota ANY licensing fees for their use. Here's a link for more info http://www.autoblog.com/2009/07/05/editorial-attention-i-wall-street-journal-i-ford-does-b-n/

     

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    Tollbooth Willy, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 12:57pm

    I was thinking last night about what perhaps occurred to change people's thinking and/or core values from:

    Older: "Whats your Contribution to Society?"
    Today: "Whats Society's Contribution To You?"

    Seems Patents and relaxation of Copyright partially facilitated that change, and created some sort of a method of economic exploitation.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 12:59pm

    The real issue is not that we have patents but that there are so many weak/obvious/bad patents.

    Honestly, you do not need lawyers to solve this problem, you need Engineers. When you are developing something new there are an unlimited number of paths you could choose to solve your problem. Patents represent paths you cannot go down without paying - every other path is still available for free. By tying up a bunch of tech in patents Toyota is forcing its competition to pay or innovate. Patents foster innovation by forcing folks to work around them. Just using someone else's work is not very creative or innovative.

     

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    Dave S., Jul 8th, 2009 @ 1:07pm

    Re: Agree with patents in this case

    I have to agree with you whole-heartedly. All the other car companies had the same opportunity to innovate and patent just like Toyota did. Toyota innovated and now they will reap the benefits of their doing so first. Either way their technology is now public knowledge and other companies will be able to use that knowledge, and build on it to further innovate in the area of hybrid engines.

    DB, at least there's now two people to stone, hope that helps ;)

     

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    mobiGeek, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 1:11pm

    Re: Agree with patents in this case

    So you are against the abuse of patents, but proper use of patents is okay.

    So what is the proper use? What is the intent of the patent system? Is there a way to use a patent system to meet its intent?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 1:12pm

    Re:

    I am glad to see that someone else is aware of this.

     

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    Duane, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 1:15pm

    Re:

    It's not creative or innovative unless they build off your work and better it. In which case, it's both.

    Also, the real problem is that people are patenting everything but breathing air, and the patents are so broad that anything you do is violating their patents. Don't kid yourself, no company today's wants to compete on innovation and creativity if they don't have to. Lawsuits are cheaper.

     

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    mobiGeek, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 1:16pm

    Re:

    Relaxation of copyright? Care to point to any such references?

    How about this instead:

    Older: "we can limit people's access to goods and jack up profit margins WAY up while abusing our customers and our supplier"
    Today: "we can't hold back efficiencies for much longer without government intervention"

     

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    sehlat (profile), Jul 8th, 2009 @ 1:20pm

    "harms everyone... except the lawyers, of course."

    Oh, it harms the lawyers as well, in the long run. Fewer product choices, more environmental damage, slower innovation also deprives them of the benefits of the progress. But that's what happens to anybody who uses a weapon (and lawyers and patents ARE weapons) to do their thinking for them.

     

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    mac84, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 1:37pm

    Funny. If it were Apple or GM they would be patent trolls. But when it's Toyota, we can't just blame Toyota, it's the system at fault.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 1:38pm

    Not necessarily for "future patent battles"

    ...if only to have the necessary "stockpile" for future patent battles against competitors.

    I'll suggest that one other use of this stockpile is for the purpose of trading, or to put another way, cross-licensing.

    "I have patent A, you have patent B. Instead of paying royalties, I can let you use A if you can let me use B..."

    It does however, tend to create a barrier of entry for companies that has not yet created their patent stockpile.

     

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  19.  
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    Susan, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 1:49pm

    Ford and Hybrids

    I hope Ford beats Toyota in court. The race for patents is ridiculous because it puts big business ahead of our environment.

    Sadly, big business is being put ahead of the environment in our community where Ford and Pan Am Railways is partnering to pave over an aquifer and unload Fords over a sensitive aquifer that provides water to 15,000 people.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 2:00pm

    Re:

    So, saying that Ford hybrids cost a lot more because Ford has to pay license fees to Toyota is a lie. Nice catch.

     

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    Haapi, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 2:00pm

    Re: Agree with patents in this case

    I'll agree with the patents, as well.

    GM created and patented the catalytic converter, and the other companies licensed that under RAND terms. It would take some research to know if they were forced to license, and/or forced to keep it reasonable.

    Now, if the patent thicket is full of the kind of crap that we love to hate, because the PTO has lamely granted obvious/prior-art things, well, that's a different story.

     

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    Matt, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 2:05pm

    Re: Re: Agree with patents in this case

    The proper use is to allow some exclusivity on a product or design for a certain period of time for the inventor to recoup R&D costs and not have their work blatantly ripped off by another company who then has minimal R&D costs and can undercut the inventor.

    I'd say the real sticking point on patents is how long they are in effect. As it stands, patents are valid for 20 years which for any sort of technology patent is a really damn long time. If anything, reduce the length of patents to force a patent holder to bring their patent to market or risk losing it without getting the benefits of the patent.

     

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    HK, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 2:09pm

    System working as designed.

    I hate patents and trolls just as much as the next guy. However in this case, system is promoting innovation, go back in time a little, say 10 years. While GMC was building Hummers, Toyota was working on hybrids, inventing, innovating. The pored money in this venture, patented the results.

    I think its just fine they make money on those patents now.

     

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    Brian, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 2:13pm

    Not Toyota's Issue

    The title should be, "How Patents are Slowing Growth of Hybrid Vehicles". It's not Toyota's fault for filing a lot of patents - afterall, they had to be approved, and Toyota had to have come up with something new or innovative in order to get them. The arguement that Toyota has gotten too many patents is odd - "how dare they be too innovative".

     

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    BobinBaltimore (profile), Jul 8th, 2009 @ 2:21pm

    NOT "Effectively Impossible"

    Mike, I agree with your general premise that patent thickets can create some problems and stifle some aspects of some innovation in certain markets, but this is a really bad example. Sure, Toyota has a ton of patents in hybrid technology. So do most car companies. Your example touches on Ford's licensing of Toyota technology for the Escape Hybrid. True. But Ford then went on to develop it's own technology - now in use on the Fusion/Milan Hybrid - which actually blows the doors off of the Toyota technology in many ways. It is actually the Ford Fusion Hybrid which holds the record for the most patents on a given car model. See: http://www.autobloggreen.com/2009/06/03/ford-fusion-hybrid-the-most-patented-car-in-history/

    This is a great example of where patents - and a desire to avoid paying a competitor to license their system - actually spurred innovation. Now Ford has a product which many analysts believe represents a solid evolution and restatement of hybrid technology, on a platform that is reviewing extremely well (and with better crash tests, mileage and expected quality!) than the present Camry hybrid. Boy those Toyota patents sure stifled innovation. Wait...what???

    Look, I agree in general that the hyper-patenting trend of slapping one (or attempting to) on every little thing, not to protected your investment, but largely for the purposes heading off competitors can negatively impact innovation in some cases, even though it is surely a legal practice. But this is a really poor example that is readily refuted.

     

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    BobinBaltimore (profile), Jul 8th, 2009 @ 2:26pm

    Re: System working as designed.

    Agreed, but actually early Toyota and Honda hybrid work leveraged heavily work done by GM and - I seem to recall - Mercedes, before there was a whole lot of interest in the technology. So, I agree with your point, but just because Honda and Toyota was first to market does not mean they had a monopoly on innovation.

     

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    Reed (profile), Jul 8th, 2009 @ 3:54pm

    Re: Re: Re: Agree with patents in this case

    "The proper use is to allow some exclusivity on a product or design for a certain period of time"

    This would be an excellent solution to solve the patent conundrum.

    On the other hand if the government just got out of the business of protecting business models who knows what would happen. Maybe cooperative development with competitors so R&D costs are reduced, better ideas are produced, and no-one can rip-off because they are all invested in the research as well.

    This is what I see the future becoming. Not giant corporations spending billions of dollars on research that another giant corporation is already conducting.

    The amount of waste that IP law produces in my mind is staggering and that doesn't even consider the court costs.

     

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    BobinBaltimore (profile), Jul 8th, 2009 @ 4:01pm

    Re:

    Thanks for clarifying this!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 4:04pm

    consider the alternative

    toyota spends billions of dollars developing and marketing hybrid technology. ford comes along, buys a single unit, reverse engineers it (virtually no R&D), and jumps on toyota's hybrid marketing. if that's the case, no one will ever want to be first to market.

    but this is more of a problem in biotech. between trials and testing, it takes somewhere between .5 and 1.5 billion to bring a blockbuster drug to market (the anti-patent people say it's .5, the pro-patent say it's 1.5). then you have marketing on top of that. in most cases, when a generic drug is released, even if the doctor writes your prescription for the brand name drug, you have a right to demand the generic from the pharmacist (so the brand is always marketing for itself and the generic). but once a drug has been discovered to have a specific effect, that's it. it's trivial to manufacture the drug from there. the result is that whenever a generic gets released, the profits erode somewhere between 50 and 90% (also debated by the anti/pro-patent crowd). if the generic doesn't have to pay for R&D, and by law, is allowed to pull a bait and switch, there's no reason to develop drugs. this and toyota's situation are EXACTLY what patent law was designed for.

    the real problem is the obviousness standard because it's always going to be subjective. it's an even bigger joke because obviousness will come up in court cases where the court must decide what kind of education/experience is held by a person of "ordinary skill in the art," and it's almost always 5-10 years and 1 or 2 degrees more than what the examiner had. to "fix" this, some people in power thought that if a patent has not been filed explicitly covering something, it should be patentable, regardless of how simple or non-technological it is. the side effect was that ridiculously obvious and mundane things would get patented. these people are becoming a minority, so most of the other problems have been fixed, but we're still clearing out the bullshit patents from the system.

     

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    BobinBaltimore (profile), Jul 8th, 2009 @ 4:05pm

    Re: NOT "Effectively Impossible"

    Just clarifying per the above AC comment, that the Ford Escape does NOT license Toyota technology, so the original point of the post is even weaker than originally thought.

     

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    Reed (profile), Jul 8th, 2009 @ 4:08pm

    Innovation vs. Litigation

    "Boy those Toyota patents sure stifled innovation. Wait...what???"

    No, it just makes so only the largest mega-corporation could ever produce such a good without getting the crap sued out of them. In your patent friendly world only people with a team of lawyers could ever hope to innovate and produce successfully.

    In this way Patents lock in business models of those who can protect/fight for their concepts in extended legal battles. What does this have to do with innovation again?

    Keep in mind the most innovative car business started in people's back yards. I guess that it just plain off limits in the new patented world.

    Have you examined Ford Patents on Hybrid versus Toyota? Are they really that different and innovative compared to each other or did they just take an idea that has been running on every diesel train in the nation and applied it to a car?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 5:07pm

    Re: Re:

    If you build off of something and make it better then you have changed it, in that case the patent may no longer be an issue. Being forced in new directions by a constraint like a patent is a great way to foster innovation. Unlimited resources makes one lazy, constraints force one to rethink the problem.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 7:31pm

    Re: Innovation vs. Litigation

    Both the Ford and Toyota patents are innovative and inventive. Yes, I have looked at both. No, they are not what has been running on every diesel train in the nation (ever seen a diesel engine rebuilt? Cool stuff).

    However, all your lovely preamble statements are merely dodging the question. Here is a lovely example of a highly innovative field (hybrids), where patents have driven competitive companies to design around existing IP, ultimately coming up with better solutions. The system not only worked, it worked exactly as Thomas Jefferson envisioned it. To then try to say, well it only works for big companies with lots of lawyers is nonsense. There are many inventive and innovative companies, however, if you focus is only on the few examples of when patents do not work and not on the tens of thousands of times they do, you quickly get the wrong impression.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 7:37pm

    "if only to have the necessary "stockpile" for future patent battles against competitors."

    Not just for countersuing anyone who sues them for patent infringement, but to ensure that no one else grabs patents on something they want to make to avoid being sued for patent infringement (since people can't apply for and then sue on patents that Toyota already owns). No, I don't blame Toyota one but, but to the extent that they initiate lawsuits against others who allegedly infringe, that's where I would blame Toyota and to that extent I would get upset with them (to the extent that they just grab patents to counter sue anyone that sues them first or to just make sure that they are the ones who own the patents on designs they might develop so no one else owns those patents and sues them, then I don't blame them).

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 7:38pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Ah, but the anti-IP people want to let everyone copy the first, poor, non-optimized solution. That is the easy way out. Yes, patents cause "inefficiencies" because they cause the second and third (and fourth, ad infinitum) company to find other ways. However, consumers win with these "inefficiencies" because they get to pick between competing, patented technologies (Beta vs. VHS, Laser Disc vs. videotape, 8 Track Tape vs. Cassette - which got better). In the end, the market gets more choices and consumers get to decide which technology advances.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 7:44pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "However, consumers win with these "inefficiencies" because they get to pick between competing, patented technologies"

    Without patents consumers get to pick among everything being produced and companies will naturally produce what consumers want in the proportion that each variance is demanded at the most economically efficient prices for each variance of a product.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 8:09pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I am unsure of what you are smoking, but you are wrong. Consumers can only choose what they have to choose from. Consider this: Why did consumers choose the Toyota Prius? Because it was the best available at what it did.

    Now, Ford was forced to develop another alternative because of Toyota's patents. Had Ford been able to copy, they would have copied Toyota's Prius and called it something else, maybe a Ford Fantasy. Consumers would then have a choice between the same product by two producers. The price would have been driven to the marginal cost of production, and consumers would have "won" by paying less for essentially one choice.

    However, because Ford was forced to develop another alternative, they developed the Ford Fusion hybrid, which is running rings around the Prius according to nearly every reviewer that has driven the hybrid Fusion.

    Now, do consumers win because they get a cheaper Prius, or do they win because a better car was designed around the patents on the Prius? I argue for the latter.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 8:15pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Companies will "naturally" produce what is lowest cost to produce that consumers seem to buy. If there were no patents, then everyone would have produced a Prius equivalent, which is exactly what consumers wanted. It was easier that there were no choices, and without patents, it would take longer to develop real choices. Sure, the Prius would see "incremental" changes from season to season, but the hybrid Fusion is being hailed as a "next generation" vehicle, leap-frogging the Prius. For "next generation" changes to happen "incrementally" can take decades. Ford did it in much less than a decade.

    Since Toyota is blocked by Ford's patents, they will have to develop their own, unique, competitive technology. May the best, unique technology win, because that is win consumers win, not when companies copy each other.

     

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    Michael (profile), Jul 9th, 2009 @ 12:34am

    Literally Limit Patents (To less than one per day)

    The solution to weak patents is to limit patents to only the cream of the crop, those most innovative, non-obvious, and fully vetted as not being obvious engineering challenges.

    I would like to see patents collected in secret and a list of 12 - 365 top candidates for patents to be created. A set of engineers would then describe the -task- those patents were to accomplish and colleges around the country would have a year to try and duplicate any patents that they find. Other corporations would also have time to file. ANY duplication of the patented process would thus invalidate the patent as obvious to other skilled practitioners.

    I imagine this process would probably take 2-3 years to complete. A year for collection. A year for public competition to duplicate the effort. Then the time required to examine the efforts towards the patents to ensure that they aren't getting too close or duplicating it.

    Limiting patents to 10-20 years. Limit copyright to 20 years. Also, any period of greater than a year when either is unavailable would automatically and irrecoverably revoke the rights on the basis of abandonment.

    Trademarks, now those should exist until abandoned. (Thus the name Mickey Mouse attributed to that cultural icon would be a trademark. However just Mickey in a generic artistic setting, or attributed to say a moose would not infringe.)

    Obvious names wouldn't be protected (EG: Fido the dog), nor would concepts and contexts that had become part of popular culture. The test for that would be to ask a representative sample of plaintiff and defendant selected target audiences about samples of the 'original' and 'copied' work to determine attribution of influences. A scholarly examination of the surveys would, if audiences are selected properly, determine any cultural source works and the degree of material which should actually be tested for unattributed inspiration, or mutual discovery.

     

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    Ikonoclasm, Jul 9th, 2009 @ 6:31am

    Compulsory Licensing

    If it's in the National Interest, the government can either take the patents from Toyota (bad idea) or force Toyota to issue compulsory licenses at a rate that the US government considers reasonable.

    Compulsory licensing in certain fields of research (environmental engineering, medical, etc.) that are in line with government agendas would foster considerably more competition (the alternative source of innovation as opposed to "working around" the claims of the patents), which is good for both the market and the consumer.

     

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    Free Capitalist, Jul 9th, 2009 @ 6:54am

    Patent working as it should

    I agree with many posters: Toyota made a very good R&D risk investment, and it seems like the international patent law is working in this case.

    It would be absurd if the patent system were gutted so more companies could profit more by building Toyota-like hybrids. Frankly, I think this technology is environmentally irrelevant considering its carbon footprint measured from production though disposal. They use less gasoline, and provide decent economy for their owners, but not *that much less gasoline than, say, Toyota's current 4-banger in the Corolla.

    That being said, I *do worry if patents are slowing the release of environmentally relevant technologies, such as Hydrogen Fuel Cell vehicles.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2009 @ 7:37am

    Re: Compulsory Licensing

    However, since Ford now has the better product, compulsory licensing of the less valuable technology is like forcing licensing of Betamax. Who cares when VHS was the better technology? Again, this was the point of patents. Without patents, everyone would have copied Toyota, and better technology would stagnate as the copyists reduced the poop out of the price of the Prius technology. If we want focus on cost reduction, i.e, we want to focus on innovation, that is fine, but if we want new technology, we should keep incentives, i.e., patents, in place.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2009 @ 7:39am

    Re: Compulsory Licensing

    Patents are not "slowing" the release of any environmentally relevant technology of which I am aware. There are dozens of inventors trying to refine the technology, but no one has a lock on fuel cells; perhaps because the basic technology has been around for decades. If anything, patents are speeding the development of technology because this is one area where researchers keep reviewing new patents and applications as they are a good source of information.

     

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  44.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2009 @ 8:56am

    Re: Re: Agree with patents in this case

    The patent system is meant to encourage inventors to disclose useful inventions that never would have otherwise been put out for public view.

    This should eliminate all the stuff that could be easily recreated given the description of the invention.

    Ultimately, IP law should enrich the public domain.

     

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  45.  
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    Not anonymous, Jul 9th, 2009 @ 9:55am

    Re: Agree with patents in this case

    I have to agree with the patents in this case too. At a time when many car companies were creating gas guzzling SUVs, Toyota had the vision to busily work on hybrid technology. I think the amount of money that they invested in the technology should be rewarded.

    Patents shouldn't last forever. But a company that innovates should be allowed to profit.

     

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  46.  
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    Almost Anonymous (profile), Jul 9th, 2009 @ 10:18am

    No.

    The problem I have with this and other "patent thickets" is that they are usually WAY over-generalized. I don't have a problem with an actual invention being protected, such as the device(s) used to reclaim the braking energy. I do have a problem with a general patent that effectively covers ALL inventions that could be described as reclaiming braking energy. If some loner inventor comes up completely on his own with a radical ground breaking invention, why should he have to pay a fee to someone to be allowed to produce his invention just because they had the *idea* first?

     

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  47.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2009 @ 10:20am

    Re: Re: Agree with patents in this case

    Patents do not last forever. With some exceptions, they last 20 years from the date of filing. Depending on what happens in prosecution, the actual life of a patent ranges anywhere from about 8 or 9 years to about 18 years.

     

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  48.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2009 @ 10:23am

    Re: No.

    Notwithstanding the complaints of several people that patents cover "ideas," they do cover inventions. Yes, some patents can be broad. Fortunately, very few are. We know of one, to James Watts for a steam engine, which was broad enough to "stifle" invention for a while (according to some people). It is unfortunate that any system is abused, but it will happen. 7.5 million patents have been issued. I doubt that more than a few of these "broad" "idea" patents exist at any one time. If they do, no one has shown that to be the case.

     

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  49.  
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    Almost Anonymous (profile), Jul 9th, 2009 @ 10:35am

    Re: Re: No.

    I am aware that patents cover inventions and in the instances where the inventions are very clear and specific, as I said I have little problem with the protections granted by patents.

    However, I disagree with your assertion that overly broad patents are in the minority. I would request a citation, but I'm too lazy to look one up to bolster my own assertion. I will note that many of the complaints levied against the patent system involve overly broad/generalized patents, and I don't believe that people are cherry-picking examples; bad patents are granted every day.

     

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  50.  
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    Paul Grenney, Jul 9th, 2009 @ 11:14am

    Lawyers & Thicket Costly: Benefits to All with Diesel

    Hybrids offer low emissions for clean air and efficiency in higher gasoline mileage. Downside is weight and toxic chemicals (battery).
    Diesels, the 2008 and newer versions, offer low emissions and mpg efficiency. Additionally, weight and toxic chemicals are less than comparable hybrids.
    MINI's new diesel is rated at 60 mpg
    Rather than encourage Toyota to slow progress and benefits to the driving public, consider the Diesel alternative

     

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  51.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2009 @ 11:25am

    Re: Re: Re: No.

    You mention two subjects that can join, but perhaps less often than people complain about.

    The first issue (the second you mention) is the the issuance of "bad patents." Since "bad" is a relative term, I believe what you mean by a "bad" patent is one that does not meet the requirements for a patent; i.e., they are not enabled, the inventor did not actually have possession of the invention, the claims are worded in a way that leads to vagueness of scope, or the patents were anticipated or obvious by some sort of prior art or knowledge.

    I believe fewer patents are being issued today that would be considered "bad" by the above definition than a few years ago, but they are still being issued. They are not issued "every day," because patents are only issued in the United States on Tuesday, but the odds are good that each group of patents issued contain some that would meet the definition of "bad."

    Fortunately, we have multiple systems that permit addressing "bad" patents. Re-examination is foremost of these systems. While re-examination is not cheap, neither is it all that expensive as compared to the supposed benefit of invalidating the claims of a patent.

    As for your other comment regarding breadth, I have noticed that many of the frequent complaints about overly broad patents are for the same patents. That likely means one of two things. Either there are few "overly broad" patents, or if there are more than a few, the other "overly broad" patents are not used in litigation or in an injunction.

    I also point out that too many people point to James Watt and the steam engine and the Wright brothers as examples of "overly broad" patents that "stifled innovation." Well, if you have to reach back two hundred years for examples, then the problem must be less significant than some people allege. If "overly broad" patents are issued "every day," there should be thousands of current examples to pick from, but people keep focusing on patents nearly a hundred years old and more than two hundred years old. Very strange.

     

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  52.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2009 @ 11:30am

    Re: Lawyers & Thicket Costly: Benefits to All with Diesel

    I was kind of hoping that Ford would bring their European diesel to the U.S. I do not recall the name of the car, but it was also advertised as getting 60 mpg - probably in a stick, but I do not know.

    Regardless, there are competitive options available, as you noticed. A monopoly on a particular invention does not mean a monopoly on high gas mileage technologies. In fact, in many cases the alternatives were developed as options to avoid existing patents increasing choices for consumers. Once again, the patent system does what it is supposed to do.

     

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  53.  
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    staff1, Jul 9th, 2009 @ 11:37am

    patent thicket

    "Toyota has purposely built up a patent thicket"

    Come on now. If you bought a house, would you apply for title? Of course you would because it would be something of considerable value and you would want to protect your investment. If we could not protect our property, why would anyone go through the trouble of building or creating? Very simply -they wouldn't. Look at where any country without a patent system or a weak one is economically.

    Patent reform is a fraud on America...
    Please see http://truereform.piausa.org/ for a different/opposing view on patent reform.

     

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  54.  
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    nasch, Jul 9th, 2009 @ 12:13pm

    Re: Re:

    I'm not sure that word means what you think it means. A lie is knowingly stating something false with the intent to deceive. It seems much more likely that in most cases such incorrect statements would be not a lie but a mistake.

     

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  55.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2009 @ 12:17pm

    Re: patent thicket

    If you read the posts above, you will see that not only has Toyota not used patents to "slow" the growth of hybrid vehicles, at least one company, Ford, has created a better hybrid (actually reviewers typically rate the hybrid Ford Fusion and the hybrid Ford Escape as the best in their respective classes, so I suppose they actually developed two).

    Though it has not been discussed, one could also point out that Toyota has not been afraid of licensing their patents, and apparently, though figures have not been released, the terms are reasonable given the number of companies that have licensed Toyota's hybrid patents. Also of interest is that the number of hybrids per year has been increasing at a very fast rate, though that may slow with the condition of the economy. I can see Mike's next headline:

    How Toyota is Using the Economy to Slow the Growth of Hybrid Vehicles

     

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  56.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2009 @ 2:16pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Yeah, you might be right. It is more likely that Mike, falling all over himself to diss someone who was innovative and demonstrated that innovativeness through patents, was sloppy and exaggerated the case as opposed to plain old lying.

    What is more hilarious is that Mike claims the market has been slowed by patents, and yada, yada, yada, and yet all he is doing is presuming this is the case, rather than noting that the number of hybrid models per year has been doubling over the last two or three years. Perhaps Mike does not understand either the word "massive" or the word "slowing."

     

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  57.  
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    TechLaw_Elman (profile), Jul 9th, 2009 @ 10:39pm

    In a dynamic economic system, patents are a good thing

    It seems to me that Mike Masnick is misled by the 18th Century European approach to economics (The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith) vhich views the economy statically as a vehicle to allocate among members of the population goods and services available at any one time. But when one looks at the economy as a dynamic system that brings into existence over time better and more efficient products and services, the fallacy is exposed. Indeed the Founding Fathers of our Country took a dynamic view of the innovation economy and wrote into the Constitution Article 1, sec. 8, clause 8. In the following century, Abraham Lincoln, himself a patentee, said: "The patent system . . . secured to the inventor, for a limited time, the exclusive use of his invention; and thereby added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius, in the discovery and production of new and useful things." Second Lecture on Discoveries and Inventions, Jacksonville, Illinois, February 11, 1859.

    Consider the originator of such a product. Why take the risk to invest in an innovation unless the originator can reasonably expect a reward that outweighs the risk?

    Consider the subsequent adopter of the innovation. If he could reap the rewards of marketing the improved product in an established market without sharing the burden and risk of the originator, then his expected reward is greater than the originator's. In such an economy, everyone would be incentivized to play "after you Alphonse," and one would expect a lower rate of innovation than in an economy supported by a viable patent system.

    For a more comprehensive demonstration of this proposition, accompanied by evidence a viable patent system encourages innovation, read The Invisible Edge by Blaxill & Eckardt (March 2009) http://bit.ly/HoLub

    And follow me on Twitter @TechLaw_Elman

     

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  58.  
    icon
    TechLaw_Elman (profile), Jul 9th, 2009 @ 11:06pm

    Re: So what is the alternative?

    Methinks thou puttest the cart before the horse.

    My view is that strong patents make strong economies.

    For one writer's take on poet laureate Robert Frost's immortal words "good fences make good neighbors," see http://bit.ly/d60wyFor one writer's take on poet laureate Robert Frost's immortal words "good fences make good neighbors," see http://bit.ly/d60wy

    If you know and respect the boundaries of my land (real property) you'll keep off the grass voluntarily and I'll have no need to sue you for trespassing. If, for your own convenience, you choose to cut across my lawn to shorten your path between your home and work, I'll ask you to desist. If you are honorable, you will do so. But if (heaven forbid) you're dishonorable, I may need to avail myself of the judicial system. Society encourages resolving our dispute that way rather than my using a shotgun to make you look like Fearless Fosdick. (See http://bit.ly/GmtrB)

    To operate the "levers" of the legal system, I'd need to get a lawyer. But that expedient would be necessitated by your choice to disregard my rights and trample the grass.

     

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  59.  
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    TechLaw_Elman (profile), Jul 9th, 2009 @ 11:13pm

    Re: Re: "Lawsuits are cheaper" ?

    Duane:

    Gee, I dunno about that. These days, as reported by the survey conducted biennially by the American Intellectual Property Law Ass'n, it may cost millions of dollars to take a typical high-tech patent lawsuit through the numerous stages of a court battle.

    As I say in another comment in this overall thread, if you act honorably and respect my right to the invention as defined by the claims of the patent, I won't have to sue to keep you off my property.

    For further discussion, see ya on Twitter. @TechLaw_Elman

     

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  60.  
    identicon
    RickMan, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 10:34am

    Slowed Growth is Not Just Toyota's Patents

    This is actually an old story, because Tesla also holds many patents for electric car and Serial Hybrid technology. The real barrier to the growth of Hybrids, is the lack of inovation. Parallel hybrids are a flawed technology that does not really advance what a Hybrid was supposed to create, an electric vehicle with multiple power sources. The biggest pitfall with electric vehicles was the state of our technology for bateries and our ability to sustain a charge and recharge the batery. When people spoke of hybrids prior to the first prius and Insight sales, the focus was on serial hybrids. The trick with serial hybrids, is that you can plug in the care to recharge and the gasoline/diesel engine is used only to provide the charge for keeping the battery working. Until there is wide spread licensing of Tesla's hybrid and pure electric plug-in vehicle patents or the patented technology is re-invented, we will not see real hybrid/electric car innovation. That is not to say that all of Toyota's patents do not address serial hyrids, since I do not know the contents of Toyota's Patents.

     

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  61.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 7:10pm

    Re: Slowed Growth is Not Just Toyota's Patents

    My goodness, someone who actually knows something. Yes, you are correct, the problem with "innovation" is not patents, but the lack of creativity and investment. However, the amount of innovation is increasing in hybrids (money will tend to cause that), which is evidenced by two things. First, the massive (I like using this word 'cause Mike uses it) number of patents for hybrids, and second, the massive number of hybrids that are either in or entering the market (of course, Mike and others will tell you that increased numbers of patents "stifle" innovation, which means that all the hybrids entering the market at the same time massive numbers of patents are being issued are imaginary - has to be, because the anti-IP people will tell you that massive numbers of patents "stifle" innovation - even though the numbers of hybrids contradict that).

     

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  62.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2013 @ 8:38am

    These patents really screw up all the good stealing of ideas that could happen without them!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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