CES 2015: Toyota gives competitors free access to its fuel cell patents

At CES 2015, Toyota announced it will offer all of its 5,680 fuel cell patents royalty-free to the public. In the wake of Tesla's similar move with its electronic car patents, new things appear to be on the horizon for green car technology.

Toyota unveiled the 2016 Toyota Mirai.

Toyota revealed on Monday that it will open up all of its 5,680 fuel cell patents to the public. The company made the announcement at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in an attempt to advance fuel cell technology and show that hydrogen vehicles can compete with purely electric cars.

Competitors will have access to patents ranging from technology inside the car to the actual production of hydrogen. Toyota plans on keeping its vehicle patents royalty-free until 2020, but will allow its production and supply patents of hydrogen to stay royalty-free indefinitely. In return, Toyota is requesting that companies extend a similar offer with any new patents they create.

The announcement comes on the heels of a similar move made by Tesla last year. Chief executive Elon Musk wrote in a blog post that the electric car company would be releasing several hundred patents for public use “in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.”

This is an unexpected step forward for the advancement of green cars. Hydrogen is a high-energy element that emits nearly no pollution when burned in a pure hydrogen engine. NASA has been using liquid hydrogen to launch rockets into space since the 1970s and uses the by-product, pure water, to hydrate its astronauts. 

A fuel cell uses a combination of hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, heat, and water. Often compared to how batteries work, fuel cells “convert the energy produced by a chemical reaction into usable electric power,” explains Renewable Energy World. Unlike batteries though, a “fuel cell will produce electricity as long as fuel (hydrogen) is supplied, never losing its charge.” 

Green cars have been slow to emerge in the market, largely due to the number of patents restricting the technology. By breaking these chains, Toyota says it is giving this technology a chance to truly thrive. In a press release, the company stated, “by allowing royalty-free use of [fuel cell vehicle]-related patent licenses, Toyota is going one step further as it aims to promote the widespread use of [fuel cell vehicles] and actively contribute to the realization of a hydrogen-based society.”

Toyota unveiled its first fuel cell car, the 2016 Toyota Mirai, last year. They plan on making the car available this year in California, and later introducing it in several northeastern states.

While the release of these patents has generated the most automotive buzz at CES, it is far from the only car advancements debuting at the show.

BMW showed off its new ActiveAssist technology in its i3 electric car, a program designed to help avoid collisions. It works by using four laser scanners to give the car a 360-degree view of its surroundings. As Wayne Cunningham at CNET put it in his headline, “I tried, and failed, to crash a BMW i3 at CES 2015.”  Even when accelerating at full speed toward a wall, the car will override the owner and apply the brakes, causing the car to stop “inches away from the barrier” every time, he says.

Mercedes unveiled the F 015 Luxury in Motion, a sleek, four-door design that is being called “the self-driving car of the future.” The self-guiding system is directed by stereo cameras, radar, and ultrasonic sensors and can be driven manually if the situation calls for it.

Before his keynote address, Dieter Zetsche, head of Mercedes-Benz cars, explained how he sees the future of transportation, saying that “anyone who focuses solely on the technology has not yet grasped how autonomous driving will change our society” and that “the car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport, and will ultimately become a mobile living space.”

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