Green technology in cars sure has come a long way. Back in the day, an auto sales college graduate would probably think that a client asking for a green car was referring to the paint job. Now, though, the term green goes far beyond automotive painting. Bio-diesel, hydrogen fuel cell, hybrid and outright electric cars are common. They’re still a rather new thing, but their green footprint has been firmly planted in the auto marketplace.
Now, thanks to two companies releasing their hydrogen fuel cell and electric patents, the road is wide open for a greener automotive future.
Tesla Got the Ball Rolling
Last summer, Tesla Motors founder and CEO Elon Musk announced via blog post on the company’s website that “yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters. That is no longer the case. They have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.”
Musk went on to say that he had initially took out patents out of fear of competitors stealing his company’s innovations. After realizing that very few auto makers devoted enough resources to electric car programs if at all, he thought they weren’t needed.
He promised not to sue anyone using and building upon their patents – any of their patents. All a company needs are engineers capable of understanding how they work. This kind of technology will soon be common knowledge to an automotive service technician.
While many have heralded this move by Musk and Tesla as a form of altruism for the benefit of the planet, others have speculated that there may be a very savvy business motivation behind it. If Tesla frees up all patents, they are potentially creating a much larger market which they can then dominate.
Sure, other auto makers will be able to copy the cars they have already made, making them generic. However the new Teslas will be the luxury cars of the electric market. Also, if Tesla’s electronic charging stations become the industry norm, there will be a much larger industry and therefore many more cars using them.
Toyota Follows Suit, Sort Of
On January 5th, Toyota announced that roughly 5,680 patents they own pertaining to hydrogen fuel cell technology can now be used royalty-free by some. These are patents which primarily deal with software controls, fuel stacks and high-pressure tanks. They hope this will help foster the collaboration between energy providers and auto makers that is necessary for the technology to spread.
While on the surface this may seem similar to Tesla’s plan, there are significant differences. Toyota’s goal seems more centered on establishing related industries, such as a network of fuel cell refilling stations, rather than more hydrogen fuel cell cars. Also, only the patents related to fuel production and supply are open-ended. Patents related directly to fuel cell cars, on the other hand, will remain royalty-free until 2020.
Toyota also wants to engage directly with potential patent users. There is a licencing process that will be discussed on a case-by-case basis. Patents are being offered to car, bus and equipment makers as well as to their suppliers.
Do you think releasing patents will increase green automotive technology? If so, which company’s approach is better?