Monday, June 01, 2015

Ford's patent gambit in electric vehicle technology

Ford is opening up its electric vehicle patents for licensing (not giving the technology for free). Not a big deal.
The Christian Science Monitor "explains" why in the article:

Ford shares electric car technology with rival automakers. Why?

Ford is following Tesla Motors' and BMW's footsteps in sharing its electric car technology with automakers. What does Ford gain from sharing its portfolio of patents?


Consider this: the EPA has set some pretty lofty fuel economy and emissions goals for the auto industry to meet within the next 10 years. Hybrid and fully electric cars can play a big role in meeting those targets, as they already produce fewer emissions than their gas-powered siblings and they're becoming increasingly comparable in terms of range. Unfortunately, hybrid and electric vehicle sales only make up a tiny, tiny percentage of the global market. That's not because automakers can't keep up with demand, it's because consumers haven't warmed up to these high-tech rides. Why not?

Hybrids and EVs are still more expensive than vehicles that run on gas alone -- sometimes vastly more expensive, even after federal and state tax credits.
Fuel economy of gas-powered vehicles is increasing, slowly but surely, and it's a technology that people feel comfortable with.
Gas is cheap for now (even though many understand that prices will rise in the future), giving consumers fewer reasons to switch to hybrids and EVs.
The charging infrastructure for electrified vehicles isn't robust enough for many consumers' tastes, leaving them with range anxiety.

In other words, the auto industry needs to make electric cars to meet federal regulations, but few consumers are excited about buying them. By opening up its patents, Ford hopes to give its rivals the tools to build better electric vehicles -- the end result being that automakers around the globe will build more attractive, affordable EVs so that consumers begin buying them like hotcakes. Otherwise, Ford and other innovators could end up doing the right thing (in the EPA's eyes, anyway), but get shafted on the sales floor by reluctant consumers.

In discussing Ford's gambit, the CSM noted

Now, Ford is following suit, giving rivals around the globe access to its portfolio of patents related to electric vehicle technology. Those patents cover a range of features, including battery charging (Method and Apparatus for Battery Charge Balancing, patent No. US5764027), regenerative braking (Temperature Dependent Regenerative Brake System for Electric Vehicle, patent No. US6275763), and even technology that monitors drivers and offers tips on improving performance (Driving Behavior Feedback Interface, patent No. US8880290).

One notes US 5764027 was filed June 21, 1996. The first claim is

A method for balancing charges of a plurality of batteries coupled in series, the method comprising:

(a) determining actual or estimated rates of self-discharge of the batteries; and

(b) individually shunting across one or more of the batteries to cause shunt currents which at least partially compensate for differences in said rates of self-discharge between batteries.


link to CSM article:


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