Toyota, Ford settle lawsuits over hybrid electric car patents

Toyota and Ford have settled lawsuits with Paice over patented technology used in their hybrid electric vehicles.

Automakers Toyota and Ford have settled lawsuits with a company that claims that the two giants used its patented technology in their hybrid electric vehicles.

The company, Paice, and its founder, Alex Severinsky, filed a lawsuit in May claiming that the technology in Ford's Fusion hybrid infringes upon Paice's intellectual property.

The patent, valid since 1994, is for a high-voltage system that uses both an internal combustion engine and electric motor to provide the torque necessary to propel the vehicle.

Here's the abstract:

An improved hybrid electric vehicle includes an internal combustion engine and an electric motor. Both the motor and the engine provide torque to drive the vehicle directly through a controllable torque transfer unit. Typically at low speeds or in traffic, the electric motor alone drives the vehicle, using power stored in batteries; under acceleration and during hill climbing both the engine and the motor provide torque to drive the vehicle; and in steady state highway cruising, the internal combustion engine alone drives the vehicle. The internal combustion engine is sized to operate at or near its maximum fuel efficiency during highway cruising. The motor is operable as a generator to charge the batteries as needed and also for regenerative braking. No transmission is employed. The motor operates at significantly lower currents and higher voltages than conventionally and has a rated power at least equal to that of the internal combustion engine. In this manner a cost efficient vehicle is provided, suffering no performance disadvantage compared to conventional vehicles.

A microprocessor controls the entire system, using data input to moderate the torque contribution from the engine and motor.

Last week, Ford and Paice announced that they had entered an "an agreement for the license of Paice's patent" that would lead to a dismissal of existing lawsuits and litigation between them.

The company similarly claimed that Toyota used its technology in its popular third-generation Prius, its Camry hybrid, as well as the Lexus RX450h and HS250h.

The companies announced on Monday that they would settle their disputes.

From the announcement:

The parties agree that, although certain Toyota vehicles have been found to be equivalent to a Paice patent, Toyota invented, designed and developed the Prius and Toyota's hybrid technology independent of any inventions of Dr. Severinsky and Paice as part of Toyota’s long history of innovation.

The bottom line? In the world of hybrid cars, the IP wars are heating up. According to a 2009 report (.pdf) from Australian IP law firm Griffith Hack, it all began in 1992:

Toyota leads the world in hybrid car patent families. Toyota holds 43% of the known hybrid car patent families, or more than 4000 patent families, compared to just 8% of patent families held by US car companies. Other Japanese car companies, including Nissan and Honda, have filed an additional 35% of the known hybrid car patents filed by car companies. Toyota achieved its leading position in around 1995. Toyota had filed almost no hybrid car patents in the beginning of the 1990s, and European car companies (mainly Volkswagen/Audi) were leading the patent race. However, Toyota ramped up patent filing in 1992, and quickly built a strong lead, which only other Japanese car companies attempted to keep up with in the 1990s. US car companies also started filing more patents in the mid-1990s, but much more slowly than the
Japanese companies.

To date, Toyota has filed more than 4000 patent filings, or 43 percent of hybrid car patent families filed by car companies, with more than 1000 patents claimed for the 2009 Prius alone, according to Griffith Hack.

In response, companies have either licensed hybrid car tech from Toyota, moved to develop new, different technology or simply sued Toyota for patent infringement. Or in Paice's case, file broad patents ahead of them and other major automakers and wait for infringement to occur.

Photo: 2011 Toyota Camry XLE. (Toyota)

Graphic: Leading hybrid car patent applicants. (Griffith Hack)

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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