Automotive

Published on January 6th, 2015 | by Daniel Sherman Fernandez

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Toyota’s Free Fuel Cell Patents for the Future

Fuel cell cars have seen limited popularity, what with difficulty in developing powertrains that would be sustainable and a lack of infrastructure for a fuel-cell based vehicle. We’ve seen the rise of hybrids, which can still operate on regular pump fuel- making them far more appealing to the average customer. More recently we’ve also seen an increase in plug-in hybrids and pure electric car sales, as better infrastructure is offered in order to cater to these models.

Toyota will invite royalty-free use of approximately 5,680 fuel cell related patents held globally, including critical technologies developed for the new Toyota Mirai.  The list includes approximately 1,970 patents related to fuel cell stacks, 290 associated with high-pressure hydrogen tanks, 3,350 related to fuel cell system software control and 70 patents related to hydrogen production and supply.
Toyota Mirai 2
What fuel-cells operate on is hydrogen, which exists naturally in the air we breathe. The problem is they require pure hydrogen with no additional gasses, and this is where the difficulty lies. To overcome this, Toyota began to fund and collaborate with hydrogen fuel produces and operators, such as FIrstElement Fuels and Air Liquide. 19 fuelling stations are to be set up in California, with a remaining 12 around the rest of the country. It’s not much, but it’s a start- and depending on the popularity and practicality of this infrastructure, a fuel-cell car may become a very viable mass-market option.

The hydrogen fuel cell patents will be made available to automakers who will produce and sell fuel cell vehicles, as well as to fuel cell parts suppliers and energy companies who establish and operate fueling stations, through the initial market introduction period, anticipated to last until 2020. Companies working to develop and introduce fuel cell busses and industrial equipment, such as forklifts, are also covered. Requests from parts suppliers and companies looking to adapt fuel cell technology outside of the transportation sector will be evaluated on a case by case basis.

The announcement covers only fuel cell-related patents wholly owned by Toyota.  Patents related to fuel cell vehicles will be available for royalty-free licenses until the end of 2020. Patents for hydrogen production and supply will remain open for an unlimited duration. In the spirit of collaboration, Toyota would request that companies share their own patents in return- but this is not a requirement for use of Toyota’s patents.

Toyota has a long history of opening its intellectual properties through collaboration, and was instrumental in facilitating the widespread adoption of hybrid vehicles by licensing related patents.  The announcement represents the first time that Toyota has made its patents available free of charge and reflects the company’s aggressive support for developing a hydrogen-based society.


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