Last summer in an attempt to help accelerate the development and adoption of electric cars, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced what we’ve come to affectionally call the Great Patent Giveaway of 2014. Detailed in a blog post on the Tesla website entitled All Our Patent Are Belong to You, Musk said that Tesla would offer its patents to any other company working in good faith to develop and accelerate the plug-in transportation revolution.
At the start of this year, Japanese automaker Toyota followed Tesla’s lead, offering some 5,680 hydrogen fuel cell related global patents under a similar ‘good-faith’ open-source agreement to the rest of the automotive industry.
Now we can add Ford to the list of companies offering previously protected patents to the wider automotive industry under a pay-to-use agreement with the news that it has made some 650 electrified vehicle patents available for other automaker to use in an attempt to help the auto industry make the switch away from fossil fuels and onto something greener.
It has also announced its intent to hire an additional 200 engineers to its hybrid and electric vehicle engineering departments — which it will house in a brand-new facility — promising an increase in developments in the field of electrified vehicles in the near future.
For the right price, Ford says it will now share its electrified vehicle patents.
Like Tesla and Toyota, Ford says its decision to open up its patents is driven by a desire to help accelerate industry development of future fuel technology. That might be true, but it could also ultimately lead to Ford gaining some impressive technologies from other automakers in a quid pro quo patent swap arrangement in lieu of traditional licensing fees, or have its technologies adopted by the industry as the agreed-upon standard.
We should note here that Ford’s patent stash is for electrified vehicles rather than purely electric vehicles, meaning its patent pool of 650 awarded electrified vehicle patents and 1,000 pending patent applications in the same sphere likely cover everything from vehicles with mild hybrid technology through to plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles.
While Ford hasn’t detailed each and every patent it will make public, it has chosen to highlight a handful for special mention.
The first is U.S. Patent No. US5764027, which pertains to passive cell balancing of the individual battery cells in an electric car battery pack via a discharge resistor. Since each individual lithium-ion cell has small variances in its capacity and internal cell resistance, the internal voltages of the different cells in a battery pack slowly drift over time, resulting in what is known as an unbalanced pack. While most battery chemistries can cope with a small drift in cell voltages, the more unbalanced a pack becomes the more damage is done to individual cells under heavy load, ultimately leading to premature battery degradation and loss of range.
This particular patent — first filed by Ford to the U.S. patent office in June 1996 — helps it to ensure battery longevity.
Another patent included in Ford’s available Patent portfolio is US6275763,a patent pertaining to the automatic control of how a hybrid electric vehicle’s regenerative braking system operates at different temperatures.
Designed to maximise the amount of kinetic energy recaptured by the car’s battery pack on braking, the patent describes how Ford dials up or dials down the ratio of friction braking to regenerative braking based on certain outside air temperatures.
The final patent highlighted by Ford — US8880290 — describes Ford’s computerised fuel economy coaching system and eco-driving coaching system found in its plug-in cars. While we admit to having not read the patent in full, we’d guess it describes Ford’s famous digital ‘Butterflies’: a digital feedback system used in the Ford Focus EV to help drivers understand how economical and environmentally-friendly their driving is.
While we’re pleased to see Ford opening up its patents for other automakers to use, we do note that Ford has focused more on its hybrid drivetrain technology rather than fully-electric or plug-in hybrid cars of late. While this announcement doesn’t necessarily mean Ford is moving towards more plug-in models — and you’ll note that Ford uses ‘electrified’ rather than ‘electric’ in relation to these patents — we’re hoping its new attitude to sharing will lead to at least some more plug-in models will be heading to the marketplace very soon.
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