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Toyota offers automakers free access to 24,000 of its hybrid-vehicle patents

Toyota took a notable step this week when it offered royalty-free licenses on nearly 24,000 patents related to its hybrid-vehicle technology.

The automaker said the move would help further promote the widespread use of hybrid and fully electric vehicles, thereby enabling governments, automakers, and society at large to meet emissions goals as part of efforts to tackle climate change.

Toyota’s decision is similar to one taken by leading EV maker Tesla in 2014, when it opened up all of its patents for use by other automakers.

The 23,740 patents released by the Japanese car giant will be available until 2030 and cover advanced technologies found in electric vehicles — particularly those used in hybrid vehicles — that have helped the company to realize enhanced performance, reduced size, and cost reductions.

By offering access to its know-how regarding motors and batteries used by hybrid and electric cars, Toyota hopes to prompt an increase in their supply, ultimately enabling its own business to reduce costs associated with the building of such vehicles.

Also, Reuters noted that while Toyota has enjoyed more than 20 years of success with the trailblazing Prius hybrid, it’s yet to bring a fully electric car to market. With this in mind, the news outlet suggests the company’s decision to open up its hybrid patents is at least partly aimed “at driving industry uptake of hybrids and fending off the challenge of all-battery electric vehicles.”

Besides offering access to its hybrid-vehicle patents, Toyota said it will also provide fee-based technical support to other automakers developing and selling electrified vehicles when they use Toyota’s motors, batteries, power control units, electronic control units, and other vehicle electrification system technologies as part of their powertrain systems.

“Based on the high volume of inquiries we receive about our vehicle electrification systems from companies that recognize a need to popularize hybrid and other electrified vehicle technologies, we believe that now is the time for cooperation,” Toyota executive vice president Shigeki Terashi said in a release. “If the number of electrified vehicles accelerates significantly in the next 10 years, they will become standard, and we hope to play a role in supporting that process.”

In 2014, Elon Musk opened up his company’s patents, giving other automakers and designers free and unrestricted access to Tesla’s technology.

“If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal,” Musk said at the time.

Despite the move, automakers’ interest in Tesla’s technology appears to have been limited. And with only a dozen or so contracts coming as a result of Toyota’s 2015 decision to offer patents related to its fuel cell vehicles, it will be interesting to see if the “high volume of inquiries” received recently by Toyota translates into something significant.

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Trevor Mogg
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