Proterra charging system for electric buses: look ma, no patents!
The Proterra patent strategy evokes that of Tesla:
As neat as the [Proterra] charging system is, the fact that it won't be a proprietary walled garden is even neater. Says Popple:
We're growing very quickly—we have a backlog that extends to the end of next year, we're tripling shipments in 2017, and yet we still need to work out how to make this industry grow even faster. We discovered that competing electric bus offerings out there lack this kind of fast charging equipment, which for larger fleets is a core tool you need in the kit to do a large-scale EV deployment. So by offering these patents to any other industry participants we think we can get this market to go even faster.
The decision to open up the core patents began with one of Proterra's early customers asking if it could buy electric buses from another company and still use Proterra's infrastructure (bus companies don't like being tied into a single vendor, apparently). "At a Board of Directors level there's going to be concern if we're locked into your product the way an iPhone user is locked into the Apple charging cord," said Popple. "You can do that kind of thing with smartphones, but you really shouldn't do it with an industrial market because it tends to slow down the adoption of new technology."
That first customer was given a transferable license for the charging IP, but rather than repeat that process (which took several months and involved plenty of lawyers) again and again, Proterra decided to bundle the relevant patents together and offer them to anyone under an open license. "It helps heavy-duty urban electrification to move faster, but allows us to stick to our core business," Popple told us. "For a young technology company, it's really important we just do one thing well."