From the August 2015 issue
Automakers don’t just dream about self-driving, 100-mpg cars; they’re busy creating the technologies to build them—and filing flurries of patents in the process. According to a report by the business-data company Thomson Reuters, automakers, suppliers, and independent inventors doubled their automotive patent applications in a five-year span, from fewer than 18,000 in 2009 to more than 40,000 in 2013. We’re not talking mere perfume dispensers here, rather real advances in powertrain, chassis, safety, infotainment, and telematics systems.
As with most things it does, Toyota is the world leader in total patent filings, with more than double that of any other company except Bosch and Hyundai. The company went nuts on powertrain patenting in 2013 with 1100 filings, an elevenfold increase from ’09. The Germans ruled the development of driver assists such as pedestrian detection, with Bosch, Daimler, and Continental taking the top three spots. And despite Wall Street’s current fascination with Silicon Valley firms, it’s Toyota and General Motors, not Google, leading the way on patents related to autonomous driving.
General Motors also stormed patent offices with telematics filings, no surprise given its commitment to OnStar and upcoming vehicle-to-vehicle networks. It also joined Hyundai, Ford, Toyota, and Honda among the top five companies registering fuel-economy-tech patents. But it’s Hyundai that’s staged the heaviest surge of patent filings since 2009. It’s racked up the most in fuel-saving features and infotainment, and it’s on pace to topple Toyota in total annual filings. We just hope that someone in those vast research and development departments remembers that cars should be fun.
2009–2013 data source: Thomson Reuters Derwent World Patents Index