Owner file

Automakers file record number of patents related to driverless car technology

Patents for wireless communications technology filed by the top 20 automakers hit a record high of 991 last year, according to research by intellectual property law firm Mathys & Squire.

The figure is up from 945 the previous year and triple the 323 patents from five years ago.

Wireless communications technology is expected to be a key part of driverless cars, allowing autonomous vehicles to communicate with other vehicles and objects, thereby avoiding collisions with those objects.

Mathys & Squire said the automotive industry has started to generate its own wireless communication patents to avoid potential conflicts with the telecommunications industry. The telecom sector is perceived as being more litigious than the automotive sector in the protection of its intellectual property.

By owning their own driverless car technology, automakers can avoid lengthy legal battles with telcos over the licensing of wireless technology owned by telcos.

An example of where the industries have clashed before is the much publicized dispute between Nokia and Daimler over wireless technology. Nokia had claimed that Daimler had to pay license fees for the use of its navigation technology. Daimler had claimed that the supplier of the part that used the technology would have to pay the licensing fees, which could reduce the total level of fees paid to Nokia. The case was settled with Daimler paying Nokia an undisclosed amount.

Andrew White, a partner at Mathys & Squire, said the auto industry was used to a culture where it could fit supplier parts into its vehicles without worrying about being sued by other automakers. Automakers’ sudden reliance on wireless technology in their self-driving vehicles, which may be owned by telecommunications companies, has moved them into a much more unfamiliar legal landscape.

“The automotive industry knows that access to wireless communications technology is vital to its future. They fear that telecommunications companies will hinder their access to this technology.

“They decided that the best way to access this technology was to develop and own their own intellectual property in this area – hence the increase in these patents filed by car manufacturers.

“Owning patents on wireless communications is a win-win situation for the automotive industry. This gives them valuable intellectual property in a growing field and reduces the risk of legal battles with telecommunications companies. »

White adds that automakers are increasingly subscribing to driverless vehicle patent pools to avoid intellectual property disputes. Patent pools allow companies to come together to provide access to a given list of patents that members have agreed to share.

“The second-best option for owning your own intellectual property is to belong to a patent pool that provides relatively risk-free access to a range of patented technologies in a given field.”