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.