Patent Holder Takes A Second Crack At Toyota Over Hybrid Technology

from the once-wasn't-enough? dept

Earlier this year, we wrote about how Toyota had been stockpiling a ton of patents around hybrid vehicle technology, such that almost no other carmaker could make hybrid vehicles without paying up. Of course, there was some history to that story, as Toyota had lost a big lawsuit by a patent holder named Paice a few years back, requiring a fee to be paid on a bunch of Toyota hybrids. However, apparently that wasn’t enough. Gary points out that, not only has Paice filed some new lawsuits over more recent hybrid Toyotas, it’s also taking a separate crack at the issue via the International Trade Commission (ITC), an infamous loophole used by patent holders to get multiple cracks at a company over the same patent. The link above from Treehugger asks a question that plenty of folks following the patent world have been asking for years:

Here’s a bit of a kicker: With the last suit, “Paice said the market for hybrid cars “did not take off” until Toyota “revamped its vehicle program” with technology Paice patented almost a decade earlier.” So if a company has a technology that could be a huge boon for drivers and the environment and they sit on it for a decade, does a competing company that finally does something with it and makes it a success really need to be sued repeatedly for using it? Paice seems to be somewhat at fault for not being effective enough with a smart technology.

Indeed. This isn’t a case of patents being used to enable innovation. It’s a clear case of patents being used to hinder innovation — and the patent holder seems to have no qualms about admitting that no real innovation happened until Toyota came along.

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Companies: paice, toyota

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Comments on “Patent Holder Takes A Second Crack At Toyota Over Hybrid Technology”

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Yakko Warner says:

Re: Why do people drive Toyotas?

Interesting links. Full of misinformation, though.

I drive a Prius, have for 5 years now, and I love it. Take my two kids to school every morning with plenty of room and even carpooled two other kids as well for a time. I’ve never been in an accident or had any problems parking the car, either. Never had an issue accelerating to speed on any city or highway road, with or without cargo in the trunk. Last time we were dumped with snow here in Denver, I made my way home just fine on the icy streets, even passing SUVs and 4x4s that were skidding off the side of the road.

Do I think it’s God’s gift to drivers? Absolutely not. But neither do I think it’s “grossly underpowered”, “undersized”, or any more of a “menace” on the road than any other car out there.

I will wholeheartedly agree it is the strangest-looking car on the road, though.

Richard says:

May be no bad thing

Petrol-electric hybrids are a bad idea anyway.

The combination of two power sources means that the Prius cannot be a small car and so its fuel consumption is inevitably worse than a typical small turbodiesel. The performance is much worse too – and because of all the space occupied by batteries and things it isn’t much bigger on the inside.

If you want to do a hybrid then it should use a diesel engine for better economy. Alternativelu a Gas Turbine or rotary engine would be substantially more compact for the same power output – allowing the car to be smaller on the outside or bigger on the inside. Those types of engine would be more efficient driving a generator since they naturally run at higher rpm.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: May be no bad thing

Rotary engines are compact, but not particularly efficient for the amount of power they generate. I don’t know about the efficiency of turbines, but my understanding is they work best on heavier fuels like jet fuel, rather than lighter ones like gasoline. Would they run well on diesel, which I think is in between? Don’t know. What about starting and stopping quickly, which is a nice trick hybrids use in city traffic?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: May be no bad thing

As an engineer at a turbine manufacturer …

Turbines have efficiency comparable to diesel engines (a little lower) but have much greater power/volume ratio. (largest gas turbine fits on the wing of an airliner ~120,000 hp while largest diesel is the size of a 5 story building and produces ~70,000 hp) If you put a turbine in a car it would run on diesel fuel because gasoline is too unstable at high temperatures (low autoignition temperature)

Also a turbine would be very highly inefficient, and have significant lag time if it was operated the way a Prius is. The best way to operate a turbine/electric hybrid would be to have the turbine spin a generator and run the car off of electric power (like the Volt) so that the turbine would turn on when it is needed and run until the car is plugged in or the battery is full.

Richard says:

Re: Any Examples?

You’d think that was true wouldn’t you – the problem is no one seems to be able to find an example. Often, when you think you can see a situation in which the system works well, closer inspection shows otherwise.

Of course it might be that when the system does work then there aren’t any lawsuits – so no reason to notice – but then again studies of whole industrial sectors (eg the ones done by Boldrin and Levine) tend to show patents having a negative effect.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Any Examples?

How about Clessie Cummins’ development of the air brake? Cummins spent several decades thinking about an engine brake, but it took until the 1950’s to perfect a working design.

Cummins filed for a patent (and ultimately received one) prior to talking with companies about producing or licensing his invention, finally settling on the Jacobs company for production of what became the “Jake Brake.”

The Jake Brake became a huge success, particularly in mountain states because it was a tremendous improvement in safety. Even better, NO ONE ELSE COPIED OR INFRINGED ON THE PATENT!!! Why? Well, in spite of the myth that no one reads patents, apparently people read this patent because the brake was not copied by competitors until the patent expired.

As an amusing aside, the engine brake designed by Clessie Cummins has changed very little since “innovators” were able to copy the design.

Mechwarrior says:

Re: Re: Any Examples?

“Myth that no one reads patents” , where is this myth stated exactly?

Frankly, I dont like the idea of patents. Its a balance between the income of one person and the betterment of society. Often that balance is towards some ones income to the detriment of society as a whole.

Yeah, Cummins made a few bucks on the air break, why should I care since it made that technology unavailable for other companies to use? How do you know that the patent didnt stifle more innovative designs?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Any Examples?

How do you know that the patent didnt stifle more innovative designs?

I thought I answered that question quite well in my comment, which you apparently did not read. The patent for the air brake expired in the early 1970’s. Anyone has been free to “innovate” the design for nearly 40 years, and yet the design has remained almost static. Ergo, the patent did not stifle anything.

As for the balance between the “income” of one person and the so-called “betterment of society,” if society is bettered by having the invention, and having a patent provides the incentive to invent, then obviously the income of the inventor leads to the betterment of society.

What I do not like is the sense of entitlement people seem to have when it comes to copying the inventions of others without providing the inventor with compensation. Out entitlement society seems to permeate all aspects of everything we do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Any Examples?

I keep hearing this statement over and over and over, and yet EVERY engineer I have EVER worked with (which numbers in the hundreds) ROUTINELY read patents. Avoids reading? Perhaps. I avoid reading the darn things when I can, but I read them because as an engineering manager I wanted to be sure that (a) we were not infringing and (b) our new invention was sufficiently novel to apply for a patent.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Any Examples?

I suggest you may want to consider adding c and d.

c. To assist in identifying where your competition may be placing emphasis for allocation of R&D funds.

d. References cited against an application are also quite useful in that they may reference material of which you are perhaps unaware.

Benjie says:

Does it matter?

“Petrol-electric hybrids are a bad idea anyway.

The combination of two power sources means that the Prius cannot be a small car and so its fuel consumption is inevitably worse than a typical small turbodiesel. The performance is much worse too – and because of all the space occupied by batteries and things it isn’t much bigger on the inside.”

it doesn’t matter whats’s better, but what people are willing to drive. I about never see diesel cars, just like riding a bike is even more energy efficient than driving a turbo diesel

Richard says:

Re: Does it matter?

“I about never see diesel cars”

Yes the US has somehow got hold of some kind of unjustified negative view about diesels – the Prius is designed to feed off this view.

In the UK on the other hand diesels are taking over. I have been driving a diesel as my main “mileage car” for 13 years now. In continental europe diesels have been common for many years.

Why would you not want a small-medium car that does 62mpg (my actual usage data not manufacturer’s spec), has performance practically indistinguishable from the petrol version and has no noticeable extra noise smell etc.

The Prius is just an overcomplicated red herring. Magnetic bubble memory for the road.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Does it matter?

1) Diesels used to be loud and stinky, and the diesels we mostly see in the US (big pickups, tractor trailers, and locomotives) still are. So diesel cars still have to overcome that.
2) Diesel fuel in the US has until recently been too rich in sulfur to burn cleanly, which made it difficult to meet emissions standards.
3) I believe diesel compared to gas (petrol) tends to be more expensive in the US than Europe, which reduces the economic benefit. I could be wrong about that one.

I think it’s likely diesel will start to get more popular, but it’s an uphill climb. Which fortunately diesel is good at. ha, ha

Anonymous Coward says:

Point blank, and this is a band aid , but if you hold a patent that blocks a solution to a potential catastrophe, it should fall under imminent domain.

. a cure for aids
. a gen mod soy bean that grows in a week
. a generalization of energy cycles that have been taking place since the big bang (like this one)…

All of which need to be flushed out for the good of humanity, not the greed of the inventor.

Socialism is not a four letter word.

Richard says:

Re: Re:

As has happened in both world wars.

Governments knocked together the heads of patent holders and told them to get on with it – there’s a war to win.

After the 2nd war the British government instituted a Royal commission to reward inventors whose “rights” were ignored during the fighting. Frank Whittle (for example) got £100,000 (about 20 million dollars in todays money) in spite of the fact that he had already let his patent lapse before the war.

Without the actions of the US government on entering WW1 the US aircraft industry would probably have stalled for another 5-10 years while Curtiss and the Wright’s slugged it out in court.

staff1 (profile) says:

stop the shilling!!!

“So if a company has a technology that could be a huge boon for drivers and the environment and they sit on it for a decade…”

Who says the patentee sat on the technology? Quite possibly they were trying to interest manufacturers in their technology but none ever took them up on it until Toyota began using without permission. Often that’s the way it works. You spend years and your life savings trying to interest a manufacturer and they tell you “sorry, not interested”. Then you wake up one day to find they are manufacturing your invention without your permission. See the movie Flash of Genius. That’s what big business considers fair.

Anonymous Coward says:

License? What License?

There seems to be this myth that Toyota has a “lock” on the hybrid market because of its patents. Yet, virtually everyone has a system and other than Nissan, no one else is using the technology described by Toyota in their patents. Ford has stated clearly that while they are licensing a few of Toyota’s patents, they have not paying a fee to Toyota (thanks to a court holding that Ford was not infringing Toyota’s patents – having a patent does not give you a good patent case), and they are most certainly not using Toyota’s technology – thank goodness, because the Ford Fusion hybrid and the Ford Escape hybrid are much more innovative than the Prius.

On the other hand, Toyota’s patents are spurring a lot of innovation (oops, I am not supposed to say that because it is not supposed to be true) by other companies so that they can avoid Toyota’s IP (“The real effect of Toyota’s patent strategy though is to push other firms to leapfrog the established technology.” – Edward Niedermeyer
July 2, 2009).

The end result will be a variety of ways to accomplish hybrid vehicles. The Toyota system may be good, but it is almost certainly not the best, nor optimum, but patents will drive more parallel innovation and perhaps someone else will find a better system.

Fred McTaker (profile) says:

Re: License? What License?

“patents will drive more parallel innovation and perhaps someone else will find a better system.”

The whole “parallel innovation” argument for patents is baseless. There is no evidence suggesting that parallel innovations didn’t already happen without patents. There is proof that patents stifle incremental innovations — where a good thing is made better by someone other than the original item inventor. Patents don’t only grant monopolies over ideas — they grant monopolies over all derivative, corollary, and additive ideas as well. That creates much more harm than any “parallel innovation” can counter.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: License? What License?

If it is so baseless, then why does so much of it actually happen?

Your statement regarding granting patents over “ideas” is incorrect. Patents are only granted for embodiment of an invention.

If an invention is patented, then yes, a derivative, which is synonymous with additive, would be covered by the patent because the base invention is being used for “addition” or “derivation.” Just because you make an invention purple does not avoid infringement, or copying, as the case may be.

As for “corollary” inventions, if you mean functionally equivalent, yes, that is true. So when someone invents invention A, and invention B which bears similarity to A, might be covered by a patent for invention A. However, invention C that is a parallel development (examples: turbojets over jets; ramjets over jets; engine brakes over hydraulic wheel brakes; steel belted radial tires over polyester tires; the entire family of diesel engines developed SPECIFICALLY TO AVOID THE RUDOLF DIESEL PATENTS (reported in the book “The Engine that Could”), all of which used non-infringing technology – amazing that such things happen even though they are “baseless”) may not and frequently does not infringe a patent, even though the subsequent technologies were created to help assist in avoiding infringement of the original patent.

Yes, there is proof that patents stifle incremental innovation in some instances. However, some of these same researchers have pointed out that many inventions would never have existed without the existence of patents – and THAT WOULD have stifled innovation.

Fred McTaker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: License? What License?

You’re full of crap. Name the researchers that “pointed out that many inventions would never have existed without the existence of patents”. I would like to laugh at them for claiming “X would have never existed without Y”, and still calling themselves researchers (certainly this broad supposition proves their “research” has no scientific merit). That is, unless they had a time machine. Then I want to see the time machine.

felipe_deleon (profile) says:

Smart Patent Extensions

Why aren’t patent terms linked to the actual usage of the technology?

That is to say, I believe that reformulating patents so that they originally carry a short term which is extended only if the patent holder can prove they are doing something useful with it. This “something useful” could be one of two things, further development which is actually getting somewhere and adds value (innovation) or use of the patent in an actual product.

This would a) promote innovation from patent holders (you can’t just sit on your laurels), b) reduce patent hoarding (getting a patent just in case you need it as leverage would be useless because you would have to do something with the patent to keep it) and c) avoid the sort of scenario we see here where a company is being sued for doing something useful by a patent holder who had the patent for 10 years and produced nothing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Smart Patent Extensions

Be careful, approaching people to license an invention would likely count as “doing something” or at least attempting to “produce something” with an invention. Worse, what would happen then is non-practicing entities and individual inventors would routinely send out letters offering to license their patents to anyone they can find, just to show they are attempting to do “something useful with it,” even though the letters are for show.

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