Toyota Joins Tesla In Freeing A Bunch Of Key Patents

from the good-for-innovation dept

Last June, Elon Musk and Tesla made some news in freeing up Tesla's patents, hoping to jumpstart the market for electric cars. As we pointed out at the time, this highlighted how patents can, and often do, hold back innovation -- and we hoped that others might take notice. It's taken a while, but at CES this week, Toyota also announced plans to free patents, focusing on the 5,680 patents (including pending patents) it has on fuel cell drive systems. The details still matter, but Toyota says that the patents are all available, "royalty free." The patents seem to cover the whole stack of things necessary to develop hydrogen fuel cell cars -- including the patents for hydrogen stations.

Of course, the idea, as with Tesla, is that the market needs to be jumpstarted, and that means a lot of companies working together to help build the infrastructure and educate the market. That's done best by sharing the information and letting everyone compete on the actual execution. But, of course, that's what we've been arguing should be the case for lots of technology areas as well. The patents are only serving to hold back so many markets, not allowing companies to build the best possible products they can, and thus limiting overall innovation and adoption.

Hopefully more companies -- and not just automakers -- will start to recognize why this is such a good idea, not just for their own business, but for innovation in general.

Filed Under: competition, cooperation, ecosystems, fuel cells, hydrogen fuel cells, innovation, patents
Companies: tesla, toyota


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  • identicon
    BP, 7 Jan 2015 @ 10:58pm

    Truly in the spirit of Tesla himself, who gave his patents to Westinghouse although Tesla's motivation wasn't entirely pure, but it was pure enough. He was quite upset with Mr. Edison's "joke" about how America worked when Edison joked that his promise of a $50,000.00 bonus for Mr. Tesla's invention was just a "joke". And the joke truly did turn out to be on Edison himself, who not only lost a fine, first rate mind, but lost his market lead in electricity as well.

    Tesla indeed jump started the market. And Mr. Edison had his "joke" returned many times over. And we all benefitted from Mr. Tesla's gift to Mr. Westinghouse. So it can work. Let's hope that it always does work out for the good of mankind, and not just for one man. I am reminded of the gift to the world of the polio vaccine. So thanks to Tesla and Toyota. Let the sun shine in! Peace, love and brotherhood to all.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jan 2015 @ 12:57am

    This is so kewl. But battery powered automaobiles were found to be a false lead back in the 19th century. Sorry Tesla, there is no room for you. I being a diesel freak, see that gas is the only way to go. It is $1 cheaper and the new gas cars match my 1950 Mercedes and 1995 Ford E350 diesel. I am now into propane and natural gas.

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

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 8 Jan 2015 @ 4:35am

      Re:

      But battery powered automaobiles were found to be a false lead back in the 19th century.

      Yep, it's the same over 100 years later alright. There's plenty of room if we put effort in them.

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

      • icon
        BernardoVerda (profile), 8 Jan 2015 @ 6:02pm

        Re: Re:

        >> But battery powered automaobiles were found to be a false lead back in the 19th century.

        Haven't you heard? They don't use lead any more -- these days, they're using lithium.

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

    • icon
      Richard (profile), 8 Jan 2015 @ 5:40am

      Re:

      But battery powered automaobiles were found to be a false lead back in the 19th century. Sorry Tesla, there is no room for you.

      Battery technology has come on quite a bit since then. Electric motors have advanced significantly too. The combination of Lithium batteries, rare earth magnets and brushless motors has revolutionised many fields. The model aircraft scene, for example, is unrecogniseable compared to 20 years ago (where do you think all those drones come from).

      However, based on my model aircraft experience I would say that electric cars are still not quite there yet. What works at 2hp for 10 minutes doesn't yet provide 20 hp for 4hrs with the same level of convenience.

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

      • icon
        Mason Wheeler (profile), 8 Jan 2015 @ 6:51am

        Re: Re:

        Which is why nobody successfully drives a Tesla or a Prius or a Nissan Leaf or a Ford Focus Electric or a Chevy Volt anywhere...

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 8 Jan 2015 @ 8:55am

          Re: Re: Re:

          ...Which is why nobody successfully drives a Tesla or a Prius or a Nissan Leaf or a Ford Focus Electric or a Chevy Volt anywhere...


          Different market. Those make/models are for the short range trips of limited duration. Example being the housewife who needs to go to the corner grocer to get food for tonight. Or the stay-at-home mom/pop taking their children to school, even if said school is 7 houses away (don't laugh, I actually saw this: not 7 miles, not 7 blocks, 7 houses away from the school and they're driving their children there).

          Now when the various manufacturers can put out vehicles for the every day service business or delivery business then you'll see some innovation in battery storage technology. These vehicles will have to go as much as 500 miles in one charge with a 1+ ton payload, and recharge in less than 8 hours. Those businesses with overnight lodging requirements will have to wait until adequate charging infrastructure is in place.

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

        • icon
          Ninja (profile), 8 Jan 2015 @ 9:22am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Prius has an internal combustion engine, the pure electric ones have quite poor performance distance-wise specially at higher speeds. Batteries are a type of waste we still have issues to deal with. Charging still takes hours and if everybody goes electric the grid won't be able to handle. Etc etc.

          I'd totally own a Prius but we still need further development in many fronts.

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

      • identicon
        Dennis, 9 Jan 2015 @ 4:55am

        Re: Re: Brushless is 1880's tech....

        I see that you don't know too much about electric motors. The brushless motor has been around since 1888. Ever heard of AC induction motors? Those motors account for over 95% of all electric motors in the world since industrial manufacturing equipment and some appliances in the home are powered by them. Btw, this type of motor needs no permanent magnets to work.

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

    • identicon
      Michael, 8 Jan 2015 @ 5:43am

      Re:

      Interesting argument.

      The same thing was said about internal combustion engines powering carriages not all that long ago. Horses were way better. In fact, they failed repeatedly before they managed to catch on.

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

    • icon
      Zorkna (profile), 8 Jan 2015 @ 2:43pm

      Re: Diesel

      "I being a diesel freak, see that gas is the only way to go..."

      Asthmatics who inhaled diesel exhaust fumes for two hours in a study booth didn’t just get itchy eyes and a headache while breathing in the polluted air.

      They also experienced effects on a micro level as genes associated with inflammatory and oxidative stress processes were altered.

      Those are the findings from five researchers at the University of B.C. who put 16 asthma patients in a cubicle, exposing them — on separate occasions — to filtered air and diesel exhaust and later comparing blood samples collected before and after exposures.

      Diesel exhaust induced DNA changes but filtered air did not, according to lead researcher Christopher Carlsten, a respirologist and associate professor in the division of respiratory medicine.

      The study by the researchers at UBC and Vancouver Coastal Health is published in the journal Particle and Fibre Toxicology. It showed that just two hours of exposure to diesel exhaust fumes led to biological changes that meant some genes were switched on while others turned off. The air quality during the diesel fume exposures is said to be comparable to a Beijing highway or shipping ports in British Columbia.

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

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 8 Jan 2015 @ 3:43pm

        Re: Re: Diesel

        "Diesel exhaust induced DNA changes"

        Sorry, but this is another pet peeve of mine: saying "X damages DNA" all by itself is completely meaningless. A huge amount of (completely natural) things you eat, drink, and touch every day damages DNA. Many common drugs such as aspirin damages DNA. Getting hit really hard damages DNA. DNA is a fragile molecule that gets damaged very easily. Our bodies have mechanisms to repair this damage, so in the vast majority of cases, it is a harmless thing.

        What would be meaningful is if the study identified that the particular changes noted were of the sort that are concerning. Not having read the report, it may have done this and has just been summarized badly. In any case, there's nothing meaningful about just saying there were DNA changes and leaving it at that.

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

    • identicon
      James Smith, 9 Jan 2015 @ 12:31pm

      Re: That was then,

      This is now. The electric car, but, and truck is now a reality. Why do you think so many major companies are investing in the technology and even building them?

      Hint: Maybe because they are smarter than you will ever be?

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

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 8 Jan 2015 @ 4:47am

    I wonder, what if patents were all part of a big pool and if your company wanted to use that pool it would have to chip part of the profits into that pool and in the end part of the money would keep the system running an part of it would make it back to those proportional to the number of valid patents and under commercial use they hold? Just an idea on how to prevent abuse and let everybody access without any issues. It could turn into some idiotic collections entity though but it's an idea.

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

    • icon
      Richard (profile), 8 Jan 2015 @ 5:25am

      Re:

      This actually happened in the aircraft industry in 1917 when the US government found it had no serviceable aircraft to enter ww1 with - largely due to a patent dispute between the Wrights and Curtiss.

      See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wright_brothers_patent_war

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 8 Jan 2015 @ 6:28am

        Re: Re:

        Something that stood out from that article:

        The Wrights' preoccupation with the legal issue hindered their development of new aircraft designs, and by 1910 Wright aircraft were inferior to those made by other firms in Europe. Indeed, aviation development in the U.S. was suppressed to such an extent that when the country entered World War I no acceptable American-designed aircraft were available, and U.S. forces were compelled to use French machines.

        Patents being used to stifle competition, eliminating any innovation locally, while inventors in other countries make large strides in improving the original creation due to being able to avoid the insane mess.

        'The more things change' indeed...

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

  • icon
    Richard (profile), 8 Jan 2015 @ 5:21am

    jumpstart

    hoping to jumpstart the market for electric cars.

    You can't jumpstart an electric car!

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

  • icon
    The Wanderer (profile), 8 Jan 2015 @ 6:31am

    This isn't quite as full an "opening up" as it may sound like. Multiple news articles (all with the exact same wording for this part, AFAICT) are reporting that
    Patents related to fuel cell vehicles will be available for royalty-free licenses until the end of 2020. Patents for hydrogen production and supply will remain open for an unlimited duration.
    Or in other words: these patents aren't actually being released, they're just being licensed without charge, and many (most?) of them only temporarily so.

    This doesn't seem to rise to the same level of recognition of the purpose of patents, and the value of releasing patents, as what Tesla did last year.

    (Of course, even that wasn't actually a release into the public domain, just a promise not to enforce the patents as long as they were used "in good faith" - without specifying what that might mean.)

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jan 2015 @ 2:53pm

    Been needing a car for over a year now, Toyota goes to the top of my list. All these patent holders screwing John Public don't give a damn about anything or anyone but themselves. Especially not a good thing if you are operating in a people oriented business. Know anyone with a used Tesla for sale, cheap?

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

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 8 Jan 2015 @ 6:48pm

    Be careful at the briges...

    I'm sure there's a patent troll or two just waiting to take over where these guys released IP.

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

  • icon
    edinjapan (profile), 8 Jan 2015 @ 10:44pm

    Not being altruistic

    We Japanese don't have an altruistic bone in our bodies. It's wonderful that Toyota has in one fell swoop ensured that their cars will be dominant in the coming years.

    As many of the small manufacturers of automobiles start to use and make improvements to Toyota's original designs the prices of engine parts will go down. As improvements occur Toyota's R&D people will be able to cherry pick amongst what works best and make improvements of their own.

    The oil industry is going to have to make major changes in their operations. They will have to push their R&D people to figure out how to extract Hydrogen economically from water. And how to do it without leaving mountains of impurities behind.

    The next thing they're going to need to figure out is how to deliver, store and safely pump the Hydrogen into the car's "gas tank"

    Best yet, this is not limited to just autos and cars. Now that the patents are out there, there is potential for this technology to be implemented in ships, aircraft, large scale and portable power generation (abayo genshiryoku hatsudensho) and just about everything that currently makes use of an engine built by Toyota.

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

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 9 Jan 2015 @ 2:01pm

      Re: Not being altruistic

      In all fairness, oil companies are completely aware of the energy situation and are planning for the transition to a post-oil future. That's the reason why they don't call themselves "oil companies" anymore. They're "energy companies". They have (and continue to) put a huge amount of R&D effort into hydrogen as well as other things like natural gas, solar, etc.

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

      • icon
        edinjapan (profile), 9 Jan 2015 @ 7:08pm

        Re: Re: Not being altruistic

        Don't know about the US so much but here in Japan the approach has been very cautious. http://www.jari.or.jp/portals/0/jhfc/e/jhfc/company/index.html I think Toyota was pissed off about the rate of innovation in Japan. Frankly the Koreans are pulling ahead of us on this, they already have a Hydrogen fuel cell power generation plant up and running. And, meanwhile back in Kasumigaseki Abe and crew are still trying to jumpstart reopening nuclear plants and are planning for new ones.

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


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