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All trend watchers came to the same conclusion: One of the most surest development will be in the area of electric vehicles. Before 2020 we have a fully operating electric vehicle that is competitive to the existing gasoline cars. This will satisfy a strong need of the public and also is highly feasible. After the first car has been patented in 1879 by George Selden (see US549160) many improvements has been made, resulting in the current high quality cars, at least compared to those 30 years ago.

 

Based on the economic crisis and the increasing use of natural energy sources the community starts asking for environmental friendly and energy saving cars. This forced car companies to put a lot of effort in developing cars that works on electric power rather than on gasoline.

 

Currently there is a market for two types of cars driven by electric power:

  1. Electric Vehicles(EV or BEV)
    A vehicle powered only by a form of electricity. A subclass in this are specific electric cars with Fuel Cells:

    • Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV)
      Vehicles driven by electricity produced from hydrogen and oxygen reaction using fuel cell.
  1. Hybrid Electric Vehicles(HEV)
    A vehicle powered by both gas and electric power.  They have battery capacity that can allow the vehicle to travel for limited distances on electric power alone.In practice three types of these hybrids are mentioned:

    • Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV)
      Vehicles available to be charged from outside by parallel installation of electric motor and internal combustion engine (They can be classified as a segment of hybrid vehicles)
    • Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV or IPC or HEVS)
      Vehicles that can store and use the electricity produced during driving of internal combustion engine in a battery

As the capacity of the “battery” is still the issue, the hybrid plug-in cars are much more popular than the electric cars. The average, electric vehicle can run for 40 to 100 miles on one charge. For a range of 200 miles or more, buyers need to look to a more expensive electric vehicle.

This makes these cars only useful in cities, on small distances. In countries like Germany, Canada and America for example due to the longer distance of driving these cars are not very attractive.

As battery technology continues to improve, BEV ranges will extend even further, offering an even larger number of drivers the option of driving exclusively on electricity.

 

The United States is the largest electric car market in the world. Through November of 2014, 83,647 electric cars were sold in America.

In Europe, 72,419 electric cars were sold through from January to October 2014.

In China, the world’s largest vehicle market, sales of electric vehicles have up to now failed to gain traction, though this may be changing. Through the first nine months of 2014, an estimated 42,493 electric vehicles were sold.

Almost all of the electric cars soldd worldwide are PHEV cars and hardly any figures can be found about specific EV cars.

 

Car companies are working on these new development and try to develop their own type of electric vehicle. Interesting to see the two-way developments those companies follow. On one hand they work on hybrid models, because of the still low battery capacity and on the other hand the fully electric cars, which relay upon the improving batteries for the near future.

As such the IP around these technical field is very remarkable. Over 19000 patent families are found which are filed after 2005, with the highest filing in 2011 (over 4000 inventions). All related to either cars, batteries or charging.

Surprisingly, far the most are owned by Toyota, one of the Market leaders in Electric Vehicles. Toyota owns about three times more patent families as the second company in row. And over 60% of the patent applications have a Japanese or Korean priority, meaning that they are having a Japanese or Korean origin (Toyota, Hyundai (including KIA), Nissan, Honda and Mitsubishi).

 

Some very remarkable facts passed recently:

  • Tesla made all its IP available as open source.
    (How strong are these Tesla Patents, as there are about 60 patents directly related to electric vehicles or batteries? See the Amberblog for an analysis )
  • All Toyota Fuel Cell patents are made available for royalty-free licensing
    A package of about 5600 patents worldwide has been made available. The carmaker hopes the move will spur worldwide development and innovation in fuel cell technologies.

 

As expected you find almost all carmakers in the top list of patent assignees (all the names we know from the car-market), however you can also see some specific battery specialist. Companies like Bosch, LG, Hitachi, Panasonic and Toshiba are also working in this area, and their patents are of course focussed on the battery aspect (IPC’s H01M, B60L11 and H02J7).

Surprisingly there are no patents where both a car company and a “battery” company is mentioned as patent assignee. At least from the patent point of view there doesn’t seem to be much cooperation. You would expect that these carmakers are making use of the “battery” knowledge of these companies instead on reinventing the wheel by themselves?

Some news items do indeed mention these cooperation’s, however it isn’t clear whether or not they are just suppliers are also getting some funding for further research?

Quite some carmakers have joint ventures with battery suppliers, as for example recently announced, the cooperation between LG and Nissan on batteries for Electric Vehicles (see news item ). Already earlier LG also announced about a deal with BMW (see news item). As well as Tesla has made an agreement with Panasonic.(see news item).

You should expect some more information on other cooperation’s in this field, however no information is published.

 

The future will learn how successful these cooperation’s are, as we as consumers have high expectations and want to see electric cars on the market before 2020!

 

Some trends can be recognized in the field of technological development. The most promising will be the wireless charging.

Qualcomm is leading this IP-field with some very interesting publications. Currently they are quit far with the developments and have a commercial system operational (called Qualcomm halo see www.qualcommhalo.com ). For Wireless charging of course there is no need to plug-in.

 

You don’t need to be a genius to predict what will be the next step. A possibility to charge on the road with a wire placed into the road seems to be a good solution for all before mentioned problems. Charging while driving (like a WIFI system) will for sure be the future and solves most of the issues.

Aalt van de Kuilen

Senior Patent Information Specialist in the field of Life Sciences and Chemistry. Read more about the background and expertise of Aalt van de Kuilen.