It is no secret that Toyota dominates the hybrid industry, all on the back of a single model: the Prius. Toyota has come to dominate this field so much that many other companies, including Ford, have decided to license Toyota’s technology for their own hybrids. But was it Toyota’s technology to license in the first place? That was the gist of a lawsuit field by an ex-Soviet engineer six years ago, which finally came to a conclusion recently
The result is kinda murky. Alex Severinsky will net $98 from the sale of every new Toyota hybrid vehicle, while Toyota gets to claim that its hybrid technology was developed parallel to Severinsky’s but was not stolen from him. Law is weird.
This story goes all the way back to 1994, when Severinsky filed a patent for a hybrid-drive system that he called “Hyperdrive”. The concept of a combination gas-electric engine was in and of itself not new. Rather, Severinsky’s technology dealt with the seamless transition of power from electric to petrol power. Three years later the Prius hit the market, using an unlicensed version of Severinsky’s technology, which Toyota denied. In 2004 Severinsky sued Toyota.
From the start, Toyota faced an uphill battle, though it continued to deny stealing the technology. The end result is that Severinsky collects a small royalty on each Toyota hybrid sold, including the Highlander, Lexus RX400h, and Prius. The International Trade Commission in October threatened to put a halt to Prius imports based on the outcome of the court case. Ford settled with Severinsky as well, though from the start it seems like the ex-Soviet’s sights were set on Toyota.
Personally, I don’t know if Toyota stole Severinsky’s technology or not. It sounds like a justifiable outcome though; a man gets his due credit, and Toyota gets to keep selling hybrids by the boat load.
Chris DeMorro is a car enthusiast, blogger, and all-around crazy man who is as passionate about hybrids as he is about Hemis. You can follow his constant misadventures at Three Months In A Mustang.