Though automakers has long been protective of its patents, the tide towards open-sourcing many important patents seems to have taken hold in the industry. Following Elon Musk’s announcement that Tesla patents would be free to use by other automakers, Toyota has opened up over 5,600 of its hydrogen fuel cell patents for use by competitors.
The announcement was made at the Consumer Electronics Show, and in the press release Toyota said that it will “…invite royalty-free use of approximately 5,680 fuel cell related patents held globally, including critical technologies developed for the new Toyota Mirai. The list includes approximately 1,970 patents related to fuel cell stacks, 290 associated with high-pressure hydrogen tanks, 3,350 related to fuel cell system software control and 70 patents related to hydrogen production and supply.”
This sounds a lot like Elon’s “All Our Patents Are Belong To You” announcement last summer, where he basically said he wants other automakers to make electric cars, and doesn’t want patent copyright to stand in the way. Toyota is thinking along the same lines, and is also probably hoping that other automakers building hydrogen cars will offset the tremendous cost of building a hydrogen fuel infrastructure.
The more companies involved in hydrogen cars, the less money Toyota will have to lay out itself, though Toyota is already reportedly tripling production capacity based on higher-than-expected orders.However, unlike competitors like Hyundai which are also producing EVs alongside their fuel cell vehicles, Toyota is going whole hog on hydrogen.
Yet while Tesla’s open patent announcement made big news, its not the first time automakers have shared proprietary technology. Most famously, Volvo opened its patent to the three-point safety belt back in the late 70s to promote better passenger car protection. But just because Tesla and Toyota opened their patents doesn’t mean they will be used, as other automakers have already developed their own technologies and plans for the future of fuel. Also, the patents are only free until 2020, after which? Who knows.
But sometimes it’s the thought that counts.