In a move meant to mimic Tesla and Toyota, Ford has announced that it will open up some 650 hybrid and electric vehicle patents for use by its competitors. Unlike Tesyota though, Ford won’t be giving its patents away, but rather charging an unspecified licensing fee. That’s hardly newsworthy, though the announcement of 200 additional EV engineering hires does indicate the Blue Oval is pivoting towards a major electrification push in the near future.
Giving away patents for the betterment of the world is nothing new; Jonas Salks famously gave away the use of his patented polio vaccine, and Volvo has allowed other automakers to freely use its three-point safety belt patent for decades. While I suppose Ford deserves credit for putting their patents out there, major automakers have long shared technology through a series of complex technology and licensing agreements. Ford had previously announced a hydrogen fuel cell technology-sharing alliance with Nissan and Daimler, though we’ve yet to see the fruits of that pact.
Ford’s new CEO Mark Fields has said that he thinks his company can make a “Tesla for the masses” and that appears to be what he is doing. The press release highlights a few of the 2,000 patents it is making available, including one for recapturing more energy from regenerative braking, a method for extending battery life, and a driving feedback/coaching system for more efficient driving. Automakers may access this through a Ford-founded thirdparty called AutoHarvest, which demonstrates and licenses patented technologies for companies. How much it’ll cost, Ford doesn’t specify.
Elon Musk, meanwhile, drove home the point that Tesla’s technology would be free for any automaker to use, including its Superchargers. Toyota followed suit by opening its hydrogen fuel cell patents to other automakers, also for free. Toyota and Tesla are without a doubt the leaders in their respective technologies; while Ford offers six different plug-ins, neither the Focus Electric nor the Fusion/C-Max Energi models have been breakout hits.
More than anything, this announcement seems to chart a clearer path of Ford’s technology intentions. The Blue Oval is hiring 200 dedicated vehicle electrification engineers and moving them into a remade, dedicated facility, Ford Engineering Laboratories, the former home of Henry Ford’s first labs. Also mentioned is the fact that Ford has filed some 400 EV patents in the past year alone, which indicates some serious resources are being dumped into electrification.
While Ford executives are quick to maintain that the company is maintaining a diverse portfolio of future technologies, Ford has had almost no news relating to hydrogen fuel cells in the past few years. Maybe this is the reason why?