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Toyota Builds a Patent Thicket For Hybrid Cars

kdawson posted about 5 years ago | from the stop-pay-toll dept.

Patents 307

Lorien_the_first_one sends along a WSJ piece reporting on how Toyota is hoping to benefit from new Obama Administration regulations for automobiles here in the US. "Since it started developing the gas-electric Prius more than a decade ago, Toyota has kept its attorneys just as busy as its engineers, meticulously filing for patents on more than 2,000 systems and components for its best-selling hybrid. Its third-generation Prius, which hit showrooms in May, accounts for about half of those patents alone. Toyota's goal: to make it difficult for other auto makers to develop their own hybrids without seeking licensing from Toyota, as Ford Motor Co. already did to make its Escape hybrid and Nissan Motor Co. has for its Altima hybrid."

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307 comments

Hybrid cars? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28616717)

Like half american half japanese? Like they half work and half break down?

Re:Hybrid cars? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28616967)

better than half nigger half white.

Re:Hybrid cars? (2, Insightful)

fractoid (1076465) | about 5 years ago | (#28616999)

I hope that, like half-Japanese girls, half-Japanese hybrid cars look exotic and very sexy. I'm sick of the science-project or iMac-humped-a-toaster designs that most people seem to put novel drivetrains in.

Re:Hybrid cars? (1)

shmlco (594907) | about 5 years ago | (#28617109)

I have a new word for you: aerodynamics.

Which is a major reason why the Prius and the Isight and the Volt get such good mileage. And look pretty much the same as well. Extremely low drag coefficients. Put a box on four wheels to hold four humans, some cargo, and an engine, and when you get right down to it there's only one optimum shape.

Re:Hybrid cars? (2, Insightful)

fractoid (1076465) | about 5 years ago | (#28617237)

Then explain, pray tell, why the Mercedes E-Class [wikipedia.org] looks pretty 'normal' and yet has a better Cd than the Prius or Insight?

Achievable Cd numbers are pretty close for a wide range of vehicles, so most of the difference in aerodynamic drag is due to the difference in frontal area. There's really no excuse to munt up a car's appearance just to eke out another 2% improvement in Cd when they can reduce actual drag by far more simply by making it a couple of inches narrower.

Re:Hybrid cars? (1)

pushing-robot (1037830) | about 5 years ago | (#28617153)

half-Japanese girls, half-Japanese hybrid cars

Stop giving them ideas! [wikipedia.org]

Notice: I have patented first posts (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28616749)

Please seek licensing before attempting to post first.

Re:Notice: I have patented first posts (2, Funny)

wjsteele (255130) | about 5 years ago | (#28616771)

Ouch... there appears to be prior art.

Bill

Re:Notice: I have patented first posts (1)

dudpixel (1429789) | about 5 years ago | (#28617271)

Ouch... there appears to be prior art.

Like that ever stopped anyone before.

Assuming you've got money and lawyers, press on...

anti-patent patent (1)

vawarayer (1035638) | about 5 years ago | (#28616753)

I'm just about to file for an anti-patent [insert swear of your choice] patent.

Re:anti-patent patent (2, Interesting)

NeverVotedBush (1041088) | about 5 years ago | (#28617329)

I think I agree. Patents should not be allowed to be used to hinder like Toyota is doing. There needs to be a way for patents to be arbitrated and while still protecting the inventor's rights and investments, not allow them to use patents to prevent others from competing.

Toyota isn't just locking up hybrid patents, they are also locking up fuel cell and control system patents.

I have a Honda Civic Hybrid that just had its hybrid battery die at the 64,000 mile mark. It's well within warranty and Honda replaced it for free - not a cent cost to me. But if this battery died at 64,000 miles, hopefully I will get another 64,000 out of the replacement. When I bought the car, I asked how much the battery would cost to replace and was told it would be about $1500. When I picked up my car from the dealer after the battery replacement, I asked how much this would have cost had it not been under warranty. The answer was over $5,000.

Instead of the 150,000 miles they said the pack should last, if I keep the car, I might have to spend $5000 at the 130,000 mile mark because the pack will be well out of warranty then.

Until this happened, I had been thinking about getting the 2010 Prius. Since this happened, I have been looking at the VW TDI since it gets great mileage but doesn't have the hybrid battery issues. With this bit of news, I am particularly happy that a turbo diesel comes from pre-WWII technology. I'm sure there are patents involved with the TDI, but it doesn't seem like there are near the patent obstructionist issues that there seem to be with Toyota.

Re:anti-patent patent (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28617441)

"I think I agree. Patents should not be allowed to be used to hinder like Toyota is doing."

Wait, what are patents *for*? You seem to want to have your cake and eat it too - that is, grant patent protections, yet simultaneously *not* grant patent protections. Either allowing them to profit from their investment through licensing or the exclusive use of their patentented technologies is the way patent law has of "protecting the inventor's rights and investments".

The point of the patent system is to encourage the advancement of 'arts and sciences' by allowing inventors to profit from their inventions. Toyota is willing to license their inventions (as the article summary goes out of its way to mention that Ford and Nissan licensed the patents) - they wouldn't even be required to do that - they could just use them themselves, and refuse to let anyone else create hybrids that rely on the same technology, but I personally feel allowing competitors to license your tech is a rather reasonable middle-ground, and good for consumers (as long as they license fees aren't too excesive), so good for Toyota.

I don't see that they are using the patents to prevent others from competing, so what is really the problem? How is the patent system *not* working here?

As for your gripes about the costs of batteries, I can certainly see some validity in that complaint. It's one reason I'm still rather fearful of electric vehicles - sounds like those batteries cost more than most *engines* do.

By the way, I appreciate your story about the dealer telling you the batteries should cost $1500 to replace, but it really costing $5000 - NOTE TO SELF: Get a binding contract from the dealer that they will replace the battery at or below the price the salesman tells me is the replacement cost, should the battery fail after the warranty has expired. If they refuse to provide such a written offer, then politely tell them "fuck you, asshole" and walk out the door.

Re:anti-patent patent (1)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | about 5 years ago | (#28617483)

Patents should not be allowed to be used to hinder like Toyota is doing.

They are not. You are free to license the hybrid technology from them or develop your own. All major automakers including VW have patent portfolios numbering tens of thousands that are being licensed and crosslicensed all over the place, this is nothing unusual.

Prior art? (1)

smokin_juan (469699) | about 5 years ago | (#28616763)

I don't really keep up with the whole hybrid gig, but isn't it basically the same as locomotives and mining haul trucks?

Re:Prior art? (4, Informative)

Pyrion (525584) | about 5 years ago | (#28616835)

Nope. Diesel-electric locomotives use the diesel engines to power electric generators that then power individual electric motors at each wheel. The diesel engines are not directly connected to the wheels. The closest car analogue is the Chevy Volt.

Hybrid-electric vehicles, meanwhile, are basically just regular ICE vehicles that share a common driveshaft with an electric motor. They can operate entirely on electric, entirely on the ICE, or combine the two.

Re:Prior art? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28616955)

Hybrid-electric vehicles, meanwhile, are basically just regular ICE vehicles that share a common driveshaft with an electric motor. They can operate entirely on electric, entirely on the ICE, or combine the two.

So, more like snowmobiles than locomotives.

Re:Prior art? (2, Insightful)

dgatwood (11270) | about 5 years ago | (#28616959)

To be pedantic, historically speaking, there have been series hybrid cars. There just aren't any on the market today.

Re:Prior art? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28617183)

I find this meatloaf to be shallow and pedantic.

Re:Prior art? (4, Informative)

MBCook (132727) | about 5 years ago | (#28616849)

Those are series hybrids, which is how the Chevy Volt will work (when the gas engine is engaged). The Prius is a series hybrid as well (it's got a neat but relatively complicated dual electric motor pseudo-CVT system). Other cars, such as the Honda Insight (the old one, don't know about the new) was a parallel hybrid, where the electric motor provided additional torque, but couldn't run the car alone.

Yeah, it's similar. There are some differences (trains don't generally have to deal with stop-and-go traffic, etc) but the idea isn't too far off.

I remember reading in Forbes years ago that there was a car company (Ford?) who wanted to make a hybrid. They developed their own system and it performed much worse than the Prius (the first gen in the US). That, combined with the fact their system was so similar to Toyota's they were afraid of lawsuits, led them to license the Toyota Hybrid System (THS), which was later named the Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD), since the Fords of the world wouldn't want their cars being powered by a Toyota Hybrid System.

It's a bit of a mess, but at least there are some hybrid cars. As other companies do more of this stuff (like the Volt, the Fusion if it doesn't use the HSD, etc) it will get to the point no one will be able to produce a car without violating patents, so they'll just cross-license everything and things will be the same as they are now.

Re:Prior art? (4, Interesting)

Pyrion (525584) | about 5 years ago | (#28616891)

Yes, it was Ford, and it was functionally similar enough to HSD that upon close inspection, it might as well have been HSD. They licensed the HSD from Toyota while implementing their own design, the licensing done entirely for legal reasons, while they themselves licensed some of their diesel tech to Toyota in exchange. As the article points out, no money changed hands.

Implementation-wise, what you've got is an independent traction motor and a generator that's slaved to the ICE. The generator's engaged when the battery is at low SOC, which you perceive as the engine then starts struggling to both propel the vehicle and charge the battery at the same time. The generator only acts as a motor in the act of starting the ICE. The independent traction motor handles both propulsion and regenerative braking.

Re:Prior art? (2, Informative)

jgc7 (910200) | about 5 years ago | (#28617359)

Yes, it was Ford, and it was functionally similar enough to HSD that upon close inspection, it might as well have been HSD. They licensed the HSD from Toyota while implementing their own design, the licensing done entirely for legal reasons, while they themselves licensed some of their diesel tech to Toyota in exchange. As the article points out, no money changed hands.

Ford buys 90% of it's hybrid powertrain from Aisin and Denso (Aisin is part of Toyota, and Denso is practically part of Toyota). Ford never developed a thing. The reason no money changed hands is because they agreed to buy the powertrain from Toyota at ridiculous prices. The whole thing is really quite funny, as Toyota/Denso probably make $1000 for every hybrid Ford sells, and Ford loses around $5000 on each one.

Re:Prior art? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28617639)

I like your sig.

Re:Prior art? (5, Informative)

AaronW (33736) | about 5 years ago | (#28616961)

You have the series and parallel confused. A series car typically has the electric motor inline with the engine to provide boost. This is how the original Honda Insight and hybrid Civic work. A parallel hybrid like Toyota's Prius and the Ford Escape can run on any combination of electric and gasoline. It uses a planetary gear assembly with the gasoline engine driving the planets. The sun gear goes to a generator/alternator (that can also be a motor) and the outer ring goes to the wheels and another electric motor. The CVT is basically just how it shunts power between the two motors. Mechanically it's fairly simple. If the gasoline engine dies it can use the electric motors to power itself. If an electric motor dies the car won't move.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hybrid_Synergy_Drive [wikipedia.org]

Re:Prior art? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 5 years ago | (#28617011)

Years ago a co-worker bought a new Toyota GT4. We all trooped down to the car park to admire the engineering and noted that the cylinder head came from Suzuki.

The purpose of patents is to prevent progress (4, Insightful)

symbolset (646467) | about 5 years ago | (#28617053)

It's a bit of a mess, but at least there are some hybrid cars. As other companies do more of this stuff (like the Volt, the Fusion if it doesn't use the HSD, etc) it will get to the point no one will be able to produce a car without violating patents, so they'll just cross-license everything and things will be the same as they are now.

The purpose of patents is to prevent progress. It's no longer to permit an inventor to the exclusive use of his art, and perhaps it's never been. There will never be a mass market electric car because these competing companies would rather prevent the electric car than share the market that destroys the internal combustion engine with another carmaker.

Unless we do away with patents. Then it's a race to market with the cleverest implementation of the newest technology you can get, because that's what sells, and every popular feature becomes common (commons?) in a very short time, requiring car makers to make continuous improvement in order to stay in business.

Re:The purpose of patents is to prevent progress (4, Insightful)

mattack2 (1165421) | about 5 years ago | (#28617103)

I am not trolling, but I think an argument can be made (and has been made in many other slashdot threads) that patents (can) do exactly the opposite - advance progress, in the slightly longer term.

While they arguably can 'prevent' progress in the very short term for someone who doesn't want to license the patent to make a related invention/device, for something that's expensive and/or time-consuming to develop, there is no incentive if someone else can come along and steal the idea immediately. At that point, only the very rich or very altruistic will make inventions.

I am not saying that the ONLY reason people make inventions is to get rich.. but the possibility of that happening is IMHO a reason someone goes beyond just pondering a new idea into developing it further (and/or at least further enough so that someone besides the inventor can use).

Re:The purpose of patents is to prevent progress (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28617281)

There are hordes of Economics PhD candidateslooking at actual data to determine the real effects of the patents system. In the absence of hard data I am wary of peoples opinions apparently pulled out of thin air. Regrettably I find that those with the least knowledge of a particular topic hold the strongest opinions.

Re:The purpose of patents is to prevent progress (2, Insightful)

symbolset (646467) | about 5 years ago | (#28617455)

Every new thing these days has many parts. No matter how clever you are you are unlikely to discover anything unique that can get to market by itself. And so you are blocked by all the myriad others who got to the patent office before you, or who might have. Instead of spending your time innovating new things you waste your brilliant years playing the patent game. Small inventors have almost no hope any more.

This is not a new thing. I believe the commercial exploitation of the steam engine was blocked for 20 years by inventors with duelling inventions. Someone else will have to find the link for me - I'm on the portable.

With seventeen years of wasted inventor's lives before you to hunt through for every facet of each new product you conceive, you'll shffle a lot more paper than be creative.

It doesn't have to be this way. Although the US Constitution allows the Congress the power to grant patents, it in no way compells Congress to do so. If they stopped doing it, the rennaissance of the craft inventor would energize innovation.

Re:The purpose of patents is to prevent progress (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about 5 years ago | (#28617501)

How many thing were invented and patented in the last 20 years? That is after all, the length of a patent. Not everything or every concept is covered by a patent that is currently valid.

Re:The purpose of patents is to prevent progress (1)

davester666 (731373) | about 5 years ago | (#28617461)

Except in practice, patents seem to be primarily used by the wealthy to actively prevent competition from smaller companies. If company A thinks B violates their patents, they look at the situation:

-if A and B are roughly equal in size, execute patent swap agreement for no money
-if A is > B, sue and demand royalties based on difference in size (greater the difference, the larger the royalty)
-if A is B, see how big of a warchest you can generate for a lawsuit, because if you run out of money before the lawsuit is resolved, well, it is resolved in their favor... If you have no significant warchest, well, your patent is worth even less. And if the company notices you have a patent, they might sue you just to squash you (as you probably will have to either give up in court personally, or go bankrupt with a lawyer).

So patents aren't really about protecting the little guy inventing something new anymore.

Re:The purpose of patents is to prevent progress (1)

BikeHelmet (1437881) | about 5 years ago | (#28617547)

It could also be argued that strict government regulation spurs innovation.

But I have a feeling many slashdotters would disagree with that, just as they disagree about patents.

Re:Prior art? (3, Interesting)

Maxwell (13985) | about 5 years ago | (#28616869)

No, the prius is a paralell hybrid with electrical and fuel storage. The gas engine can drive the wheels directly. The electric motor can also drive the wheels directly without the gas engine running.

Locomotives wheels are only driven by electric motors, and the electricity comes from the gas engine. There is no direct connection between diesel and wheels. There is also almost no electric storage between diesel and electric motors, so if the diesel engine stops, the electric motors stop.

The prius real advance is the ability to manage and smoothly use whatever power source is best suited at any time.

I, for one, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28616775)

welcome our new japanese overlords...

Kudos to them (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Cowdog (154277) | about 5 years ago | (#28616777)

This is exactly what patents *should* be used for: secure rewards for innovators who take the risk of bringing out a future-leading product.

The US auto companies who had a product vision apparently inspired by Country & Western music unfortunately passed on the opportunity, and now they'll have to pay.

Re:Kudos to them (5, Insightful)

beckett (27524) | about 5 years ago | (#28616829)

i agree that American Auto should suck it. The timing around the toyota patents sucks though.

Feet dragging patents may be great for the bottom line and act as some sort of poetic justice, but the patents retard widespread deployment of hybrid vehicles and chokes further development of the technology. by the time some patents would expire (e.g. 20 years), our window to affect climate change may have past.

at least Toyota banks mad cash on their prius in the mean time.

Re:Kudos to them (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about 5 years ago | (#28616971)

at least Toyota banks mad cash on their prius in the mean time.

I doubt they make much money off of that thing. They probably make about as much as they do from a Corolla, despite it costing significantly more than a Corolla.

Re:Kudos to them (3, Interesting)

beckett (27524) | about 5 years ago | (#28617141)

Toyota makes more money off the Greenwashing effect of selling the Prius with the Hybrid Synergy Drivetrain. the brand is so friendly now when you see a Toyota Kluger/Highlander fill up its 72L gas tank, it's perceived as a hipper choice than buying a Trailblazer or Land Rover.

Re:Kudos to them (1)

jo_ham (604554) | about 5 years ago | (#28617473)

Is a 72 litre gas tank in an SUV not quite small? My 1996 Peugeot 306 XN has a 50-55 litre tank (although the meter suggests 60L, I have never filled it up that much - I am assuming that includes the reserve) and its a medium sized hatchback.

I would wager that the Tailblazer and the Landy have much more thirsty tanks than the hybrid machine.

Re:Kudos to them (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28617015)

Feet dragging patents

There's no other kind. It takes years and years to revise a patent to the point where the USPTO will accept it. I worked at a (software) company that wrote and initially filed a patent in 2000, and it was still not through the process by 2008. Contrary to what many people around here may think, the USPTO does do a fair bit of work to try and make sure that patents are fair, so the process does take time.

Re:Kudos to them (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28617035)

What mad cash? For a good portion of last year it was impossible to drive a Prius off the lot anywhere in the western United States because there were none to be had - you need to be able to sell cars in order to make money off of them.

Re:Kudos to them (1)

Lonewolf666 (259450) | about 5 years ago | (#28617487)

In that case, selling was not the problem. Building enough to meet demand was ;-)

Re:Kudos to them (4, Insightful)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | about 5 years ago | (#28617129)

the patents retard widespread deployment of hybrid vehicles and chokes further development of the technology

That's debatable. Would Toyota have risked millions (billions?) on developing the technology in the first place if they weren't expecting a big reward if they succeeded. Without patents they would be the big losers now and those who dragged their feet and played it "safe" would be the big winners as they would copy the successful technology without having to risk a dime on developing it. I'm not saying that the current situation is ideal but when criticizing the patents, it's worth remembering the pros as well as the cons.

Re:Kudos to them (4, Interesting)

Arguendo (931986) | about 5 years ago | (#28617133)

at least Toyota banks mad cash on their prius in the mean time.

Actually, that's sort of the problem for Toyota. They got hit with a patent judgment [bloomberg.com] over their hybrid vehicles in eastern Texas a couple of years ago. The plaintiff was awarded nearly $100 a vehicle [scribd.com] as an on-going royalty (which is about 17% of Toyota's relatively slim profit margin).

So I agree. Kudos to Toyota for playing the game like it should be played. They got hit pretty hard and they needed to fight fire with fire. Good for them.

Re:Kudos to them (3, Insightful)

samkass (174571) | about 5 years ago | (#28617413)

by the time some patents would expire (e.g. 20 years), our window to affect climate change may have past.

Presumably Toyota could license the patents to recoup investment costs and make a profit long before they expire. THAT's the way the patent game is supposed to be played. It lowers the barrier to entry for everyone and allows the innovator to profit.

Re:Kudos to them (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about 5 years ago | (#28617589)

Well, the government passing tax and trade caps and artificially driving up energy costs will just make Toyota's patents assets that much more valuable. They will be able to recoup their costs and then some several times over in the next 20 years.

Re:Kudos to them (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about 5 years ago | (#28617553)

Your not going to effect climate change within the next 20 years. I'm not trolling or anything but the reality is that every small or third world country that is going to benefit from the tax and trade the US is getting will be adding roughly 8-9 times the amount of carbon we can offset by their increased standards of living. Further more, no one is addressing China which is out polluting the US or India which is growing to be right up there.

Nothing the US or Europe does will cancel out this effect (in the next 20-50 years) unless they cause a massive starvation or die off of their populations.

Re:Kudos to them (1)

wiggle.e (866466) | about 5 years ago | (#28616833)

Agreed, Toyota did the R&D and they deserve to profit from it for ~20 years.

People should be glad that they are willing to license out there patents. They could have made it a lot tougher on Ford.

Re:Kudos to them (1)

X0563511 (793323) | about 5 years ago | (#28617435)

20 years might be a bit much.

Back when patents first came around, that was a different story.

Nowadays, things move a bit faster...

Re:Kudos to them (5, Insightful)

fishbowl (7759) | about 5 years ago | (#28616929)

"This is exactly what patents *should* be used for: secure rewards for innovators who take the risk of bringing out a future-leading product."

Using them as a weapon against your competition who *laughed at you* all the way into *bankruptcy* is just a bonus, a coup de grace.

Re:Kudos to them (-1, Troll)

mOdQuArK! (87332) | about 5 years ago | (#28617003)

This is exactly what patents *should* be used for: secure rewards for innovators who take the risk of bringing out a future-leading product.

Bullshit. This is showing how patents can be used to be retard innovation & prevent the spread of technology. If society wants the benefits of creativity and innovation, then it should figure out a system to pay for that kind of stuff up front - not allow private individuals and organizations the power to stop their competitors from doing their own development.

Re:Kudos to them (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28617151)

This is the same argument used for drug price controls - let someone have a breakthrough and then steal their work. All that does is keep people from investing in research. Think about it for a moment. If you spend a year of your time developing a new technology and your competitor proceeds to copy it, then to break even you have to charge a higher price than you competitor would need to since you have a year of your time as an extra cost. The idea is that if the patented idea is good enough, the competitor should be able to license it and still make money, thereby allowing further innovation and competition on the manufacturing end, while still compensating you for your breakthrough. Patent licensing fees can go a long way towards funding R&D organizations, kill this goose and you are left with whatever project seems fascinating to an academic/whatever someone can sell the government on funding. Though I am an academic, I trust the market's decisions more than the other two in deciding what innovations are promising.

Re:Kudos to them (1)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | about 5 years ago | (#28617397)

This is the same argument used for drug price controls

Patents are drug price controls. They are a state intervention that props up prices.

All that does is keep people from investing in research.

So maybe medical research -- and research into other fields of great importance to human welfare -- shouldn't be left to investors trying to make a buck, but should be publicly funded. As it is now, often we get the worst of both worlds. We pay for most of the research, and then the researcher gets to get a patent on it and charge us for its use.

Re:Kudos to them (1)

Pig Hogger (10379) | about 5 years ago | (#28617421)

This is the same argument used for drug price controls - let someone have a breakthrough and then steal their work. All that does is keep people from investing in research.

Er, no. Pharma corporations don’t spend much of their own dollars in research; most research is done in university, often funded by government grants. What pharma really do is “research” into having the drug approved by authorities, and then spends heavyly on marketing.

Re:Kudos to them (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 5 years ago | (#28617009)

Innovators? I first saw a working hybrid car in 1987. It was already being used daily at a mine site so there would have been a few prototypes prior to that.

June 1994 -- Le Mans and Chrysler's hybrid (4, Interesting)

thule (9041) | about 5 years ago | (#28617021)

If you think Japanese companies were the only ones working on hybrids, take a look at this article from June 1994:

Formula Hybrid at Le Mans [google.com]

The neat idea behind Chrysler's design is that the turbine must be de-coupled from the drive train. The electric engine is the thing that is moving the car. This way the turbine can run at the most efficient RPM.

The fact is that American car companies built cars that could actually make a profit on. Those vehicles were SUV's.

Correction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28617175)

The fact is that American car companies built cars that made profits for the interlocking boards of directors of the automotive and petrochemical industries by using lobbying and PACs to neuter fuel efficiency regulations

Fixed it for you

Stop with the conspiracies! (3, Insightful)

thule (9041) | about 5 years ago | (#28617201)

Incorrect. GM *lost* money on many of it cars. I recall the number being around $1,000-$1,500 a vehicle. The SUV's were the only line where they actually made money per car.

Personally, I think GM should have just let the autoworkers pull a world-wide strike years ago. In the long run they would have been ahead even though the short term costs would have been very painful.

There is no conspiracy other than the will to survive. You can see why a company losing money on each car would *have* to fight against further regulation.

Re:Stop with the bullshit! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28617469)

Wrong. You're completely full of it. They do make a minimal profit on econoboxes and $10-20K on SUVs (or at least they did when they were selling).

one more thing (1)

thule (9041) | about 5 years ago | (#28617217)

It seems to me the only organization that came out of this whole bailout was the UAW.

Re:June 1994 -- Le Mans and Chrysler's hybrid (2, Informative)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 5 years ago | (#28617497)

The neat idea behind Chrysler's design is that the turbine must be de-coupled from the drive train. The electric engine is the thing that is moving the car. This way the turbine can run at the most efficient RPM.

That's not a particularly new idea... Diesel-electric submarines were built this way back in the 1930's.

Re:Kudos to them (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 5 years ago | (#28617515)

This is exactly what patents *should* be used for: secure rewards for innovators who take the risk of bringing out a future-leading product.

Yeah, but all too often the /. hivemnind defines "innovator" strictly as "someone I [like|agree with}approve of|all of the above]".

Obvious... (4, Informative)

Nogami_Saeko (466595) | about 5 years ago | (#28616785)

I believe this has been their plan from day one. While the Prius and their other hybrids have been good for the company both in terms of corporate image and moving vehicles, patent licensing is where the money is.

By cornering the market on hybrid system patents (many of which would also apply to hydrogen and other alternative-energy vehicles), they stand to make a lot more money than just selling their own cars. The Ford Escape hybrid is a perfect example, as Ford licensed Toyota's 1st generation hybrid drive system rather than developing their own (Toyota had already moved on to the newer hybrid system by that point in time).

Disclaimer: I own a Prius

Re:Obvious... (5, Informative)

Pyrion (525584) | about 5 years ago | (#28616921)

Nope, they developed their own system, and found it to be functionally similar to Toyota's, so rather than embroil themselves in lawsuits with Toyota, they cross-licensed.

Disclaimer: I own an Escape Hybrid.

Re:Obvious... (4, Informative)

timeOday (582209) | about 5 years ago | (#28617025)

I disagree, simply because Toyota is easily the #1 leader in hybrid auto sales, and is making lots of money from them all by itself. Here's a cite [newsweek.com] for those assertions and lots more about how the Japanese and Toyota in particular are about to reap a windfall for their forward thinking engineering. Choice quote:

"Toyota has already reached the break-even point on sales of its hybrids; by contrast, its foreign competitors, like GM, still have years of bleeding red ink ahead of them. Toyota says the parts in its next line of hybrids, due for release next year, will cost about half the current bunch, allowing it to drop prices and raise profits. While the company is estimated to have lost about $10,000 on each car produced when the line was launched back in 1997, "the new Prius is going to be hugely profitable," says Nikko's Matsushima, bringing in thousands of dollars per car.

Meanwhile, as of just six weeks ago, you have GM clinging to the old line [usatoday.com] : "as long as gas is cheap, Americans will want big, powerful vehicles. He compared [Obama's] policy to trying to fight obesity by having the government require that clothing only be made in small sizes." This after GM already went broke pursuing that strategy, while Toyota is poised to make a killing on their small fuel-efficient cars!

Re:Obvious... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28617479)

Toyota also made large gas-guzzling SUVs at the time. How much were they making off of them?

Car makers shouldnt be making these cars anyway (1, Insightful)

jonwil (467024) | about 5 years ago | (#28616795)

They SHOULD be making volt-style plugin series hybrids instead of Prius style parallel hybrids that have a direct connection between the gasoline engine and the wheels

Re:Car makers shouldnt be making these cars anyway (1)

compro01 (777531) | about 5 years ago | (#28616893)

And series hybrids are better than parallel hybrids because...?

Re:Car makers shouldnt be making these cars anyway (1)

fishbowl (7759) | about 5 years ago | (#28616909)

"They SHOULD be making volt-style plugin series hybrids instead of Prius style parallel hybrids that have a direct connection between the gasoline engine and the wheels"

Well, are you in a position of authority in an auto company's R&D or Engineering division, or not? If not, with your superior understanding of what the automakers "should" do, why not?

Re:Car makers shouldnt be making these cars anyway (2, Insightful)

Pyrion (525584) | about 5 years ago | (#28616957)

Why? Don't you incur a net loss in efficiency by converting mechanical power to electrical and back to mechanical?

Re:Car makers shouldnt be making these cars anyway (1)

compro01 (777531) | about 5 years ago | (#28617063)

I'm fairly sure the idea is to have the engine spin at the optimally efficient RPM and drive a generator designed to also provide maximum power at that RPM and that will be more efficient than running the engine at any of the range of RPMs required at various speeds.

I don't buy it as :

1. The HSD system already uses a CVT system that keeps the engine damn close to that optimal RPM across the speed range, so I don't see much possible gain there.

2. The obvious conversion losses you mention.

Re:Car makers shouldnt be making these cars anyway (1)

salimma (115327) | about 5 years ago | (#28617563)

Don't forget being able to completely shut off the gas engine when idling, and the better torque provided by electric motors when accelerating from standstill. Oh, and regenerative braking.

Now, a diesel engine is still more efficient than gasoline-powered hybrids, but Volkswagen is coming up with an interesting hybrid diesel -- it should get around 100 mpg.

Re:Car makers shouldnt be making these cars anyway (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28617269)

Would you and your fag friends please stop telling us what kind of cars we want, Mkay, thx.

Maybe this is the good kind of patent? (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28616807)

If patents are supposedly to encourage new technological developments, without knowing the details, it sounds like this might actually be a responsible use. After all, it gives Toyota a financial incentive to come up with more efficient cars. And the competition is actually licensing it. Unlike in the farmaceutical industry, where companies patent publicly-funded findings from NIH research so that they can be the only ones profiting from it. Or software, where people patent stuff to be able to sue their competitors out of a product space.

Toyota's goal: to protect it's hard work... (5, Insightful)

Maxwell (13985) | about 5 years ago | (#28616839)

So it's a fact that Toyota's goal is to prevent any one else from making hybrids without licensing?

Or maybe their goal is to protect their hard earned IP that they spent ten years working on while the rest of the world laughed at them?

Good work , Toyota. you deserve those patents.

Re:Toyota's goal: to protect it's hard work... (5, Insightful)

fermion (181285) | about 5 years ago | (#28616947)

Exactly, those that have worked on alternatively powered cars have a portfolio that will allow them to produce such cars. Those who have not are going to be left behind. This is right and proper. The companies include GM and Chrysler. Though it was probably ok to bail out these companies to assist semi-skilled semi-educated employees who would have otherwise been left with little hope of gainful employment, we do have to admit that the technical and management expertise seems so antiquated that there seems little hope that they will be able to compete. And don't complain about the expensive pay to workers. That is why they existed, to allow the semi-skilled high school graduate to enter the middle class. It did not prevent them from better funding appropriate research [autobloggreen.com] . A year ago the volt would have been a lifesaver. Now, who is going to buy a car from a company that may not be able to back it up?

Re:Toyota's goal: to protect it's hard work... (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28617057)

The Atkinson cycle engine technology in the Prius is based on the engine invented by Atkinson to avoid Otto's patents on the internal combustion engine. The idea of the patent is to protect the inventor. A side effect of that is to spur creativity in others to develop alternatives that don't violate the patents. That doesn't mean that no one else can make a hybrid without paying Toyota, it means that they can avoid Toyota's patents by inventing a different hybrid technology. I haven't heard of Honda paying Toyota for the hybrid tech they put in the Civic and other hybrid models.

American researchers in universities did a lot of R&D on hybrids back in the '60s - it's time for the American auto companies to continue that.

BTW - my understanding is that Ford didn't pay for Toyota's technology because it was easier than inventing their own. Rather, they invented their own hybrid tech but it was not sufficiently different from Toyota's in the end and they had to pay as a result.

Re:Toyota's goal: to protect it's hard work... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28617293)

Not sure if it is the case or not, but there is a different between making X, figuring out how the supply line and costs involved for actually getting X in a car vs, paying Y to have everything already done for you... In this case, toyota already had the supply chain and tech up and running.

Re:Toyota's goal: to protect it's hard work... (2, Insightful)

jo_ham (604554) | about 5 years ago | (#28617505)

They didn't "have to pay", they just decided to licence Toyota's system because it was very similar and was much, much better than Ford's. So they decided to carry on in the same vein, but skip the R&D and buy a much better performance system "off the shelf" rather than continue to refine their own version, which is a good use of the patent system - Toyota developed it after all, and put in a lot of time and money, so for Ford to benefit from that, they can licence it and get a ready researched system right off the bat.

They could have kept on with their own R&D, but it had already been done and was cheaper to licence to get the added bonuses.

Re:Toyota's goal: to protect it's hard work... (1)

drkwatr (609301) | about 5 years ago | (#28617337)

I have seen that complicated mess. I wouldn't want my engineering team's mark on it. Yuck! You will probably say well can you do better. Well yes I did, but that is beside the point. Problem is that nasty ICE once you let it go away suddenly a more beautiful design can happen. All those man years wasted on trying to make a system work that is so ancient. Just remember one thing no matter how much you polish a turd it is still sh**. Of course someone may want to tell all those working on electrics that battery isn't the way to go you will need about 50+ years for its storage capacity to make it feasible. At that rate you will probably be fighting the so called 'hydrogen' economy. Anyways some of us have some real engineering to do. In the words of Seinfeld, "Good luck with all of that." lol

it's no secret.... (4, Interesting)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | about 5 years ago | (#28616841)

the prius ad's gush about how the '09 model accounts for a thousand patents alone. my '06 prius said the same stuff. these patents are a source of pride for them.

Ford does not license Hybrid tech from Toyota (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28616911)

This is a common misconception, but Ford does not license their hybrid technology from Toyota. Related post at Autoblog where they explain: http://www.autoblog.com/2009/07/05/editorial-attention-i-wall-street-journal-i-ford-does-b-n/

Re:Ford does not license Hybrid tech from Toyota (1)

ModernGeek (601932) | about 5 years ago | (#28617047)

I just read about the cross licensing. I could have sworn that the first Ford Escapes had the same "Hybrid Synergy Drive" badge that Toyota also had.

I am with Linus on this one. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28616939)

I am with Linus on this one.

This one's too damned easy... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28616985)

If it's in the best interest of the country, Nationalize the patents...

There - problem all solved.

Oddly enough, my anti-bot image was customs... =)

The Solution is Obvious (0, Troll)

xjimhb (234034) | about 5 years ago | (#28617061)

If the Obama bin Laden Administration wants to pass regulations on this, what they need to do is INCLUDE in those regulations a law that invalidates any patents which would prevent any manufacturer from following the regulations. If Ford or GM or whoever goes to build a hybrid car, and Toyota complains of a patent violation - WHAM! Toyota's patent(s) are instantly canceled, retracted, invalidated.

If you want everyone to build hybrids or other efficeint cars, you simply CAN NOT allow one company to have a stranglehold on the technology! The technology you want everyone to use must be FORCED into the public domain.

Re:The Solution is Obvious (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28617135)

Yeah! Let's take away the patents of anything that might benefit someone someplace no matter what.

Sounds like the rantings of a freetard.

What do you do when companies refuse to put money into research since there's no return because anyone can simply rip it off? We'll be put into a new dark ages.

Re:The Solution is Obvious (4, Interesting)

MightyMartian (840721) | about 5 years ago | (#28617193)

I'm all for patent reform, but this seems to me to be a classic case of the appropriate use of patents. The parent is just a moron. Toyota put a helluva lot of money and time into its hybrid technology, why shouldn't it reap the benefits of it, whether through the sale of its own hybrids or by licensing the technology?

Re:The Solution is Obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28617137)

Or he can allow the patents and release the truth about hybrid cars and how they damage the enviroment more then most cars due to their production.

Re:The Solution is Obvious (1)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | about 5 years ago | (#28617177)

So what did Toyota do that prevents competitors from innovating something better?

Re:The Solution is Obvious (1)

japhering (564929) | about 5 years ago | (#28617369)

So what did Toyota do that prevents competitors from innovating something better?

Depends on what they patented and how willing or unwilling they are to license.

But it comes down to if you improve upon and existing patent you have to license the that patent. If
B is an improvement on A .. you still have to license A. And if you create C that is an improvement on B.. you must license A and B to not be infringing.

US auto makers blew it by mid 2001 (5, Insightful)

Locutus (9039) | about 5 years ago | (#28617083)

They had been working half-assed on hybrids since 1993 and were more than happy to give all that up to take cash from the US government to show million dollar hydrogen prototype cars and trucks. Can you say dumb? Unfortunately, the US government is allowing them to continue operating and sticking US citizens with the bill. IMO, any of those three which couldn't continue operating should have been parted out and the remains crushed like GM did with the EV1. What a waste of money and it is their own fault Toyota is going to stomp on them with patent licensing costs as they should. After all, Toyota was the one who had to endure about 8 years of bashing by the US press and US auto makers for doing hybrid systems. They even had to endure a law suite by Mobile/Texaco when Toyota and Panasonic built prismatic NiMH batteries the oil company said were outside of the NiMH patent licenses which Mobile/Texaco purchased from GM. The large NiMH batteries used in the Rav4 EV had to be discontinued but at a cost of millions of dollars, they were allowed to continue making and using the prismatic design used in the Prius battery packs. Toyota deserves to be rewarded for what they've done with and for hybrid system designs.
 

LoB
 

Re:US auto makers blew it by mid 2001 (1)

salimma (115327) | about 5 years ago | (#28617627)

Honda also has a hydrogen prototype -- the FCX Clarity. What does that have to do with not developing hybrids? A smart car manufacturer would be developing multiple new technologies, and not tie themselves to one.

German car manufacturers were actually even more hydrogen-fixated than the Detroit 3 for a while, but even they are moving to produce hybrids now (Mercedes Benz has a new S-class hybrid coming out, and BMW has models with regenerative braking).

How much of this is relavent to generic hybrids? (3, Interesting)

Banzai042 (948220) | about 5 years ago | (#28617229)

Given that Honda seems convinced that their tech doesn't conflict with any Toyota patents I'm curious as to how specific these patents are. If they're general enough for any automaker to run afoul of them just by making any sort of hybrid system then I'd imagine they could be invalidated through prior art. If they're much more specific to the Prius drivetrain then there are other questions, like how many patents deal directly with the drivetrain, vs control software, or other elements like battery tech? If it does get to that point then it can be debated if the public good of having more hybrids from different automakers outweighs the legitimate issue of rewarding Toyota for spending years and what was probably a fair sum of money in the development of their hybrid tech. I imagine that these patents cover a combination of the 2, and ford (and others) have decided that paying Toyota is cheaper than bringing a legitimate challange.
I'd guess that at least a few of these patents deal with the weird new "cvt" that only uses planetary gears instead of belts or chains, which is a pretty significant and original idea for a car. A simulation of the gear system can be found here: http://homepage.mac.com/inachan/prius/planet_e.html [mac.com]

Re:How much of this is relavent to generic hybrids (1)

Ogive17 (691899) | about 5 years ago | (#28617417)

Considering Honda put the first hybrid on the road (that anyone could own), I don't think they have anything to worry about. That and the systems are quite different.

Defensive not offensive. (3, Interesting)

shadowblaster (1565487) | about 5 years ago | (#28617305)

It is common for tecnology companies to file patents for defensive purposes. The purpose is not specifically to prevent others to compete but rather to prevent patent trolls to extort money from them in the future. Having as many things related to your product patented create a body of prior arts that can be used to fight suits by these trolls. What happens in an industry where there are a few major players (car, printers, etc) is that they end up cross licensing each others' patents anyway. This way the can focus on producing and selling their products without having to deal with lawsuits from patent trolls all the time.

Useless against patent trolls (2, Interesting)

Lonewolf666 (259450) | about 5 years ago | (#28617585)

The typical patent troll is a (usually small) company that does not produce the product itself, but only tries to cash in on the patent. So the patent troll does not violate the defensive patent, and suing them back becomes useless.

Where it works is among companies that actually produce the product in question. Which often ends up in cross-licensing as you correctly observed, and in that context patents might as well not exist at all.

More than a decade ago... (1)

PinchDuck (199974) | about 5 years ago | (#28617431)

So Toyota is just supposed to let a decade of R&D go out the window? I hate software patents as much as the next person, but Toyota had to invent physical items from scratch in anticipation of high gas prices. They were way ahead of the curve and deserve to be compensated by having their inventions protected for a period of time so they can recoup their costs and make a profit. You want to have a state-of-the-art hybrid? Buy a prius.

Toyota's too late to fully capitalize on that (2, Insightful)

damn_registrars (1103043) | about 5 years ago | (#28617443)

As the summary claimed:

Toyota's goal: to make it difficult for other auto makers to develop their own hybrids without seeking licensing from Toyota

I would like to introduce to you the Ford Fusion Hybrid [usatoday.com] , which has been rated above the Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima hybrids in numerous reviews.

And while Nissan did license Toyota's hybrid technology, Ford did not. The Ford Fusion Hybrid is the first automotive hybrid drive train to be developed in the US, by a US auto company, and built in North America for an American car. So if Toyota is trying to preemptively squash competition with their patents, they are too late.

I just want a goddamned diesel here in the US (2, Insightful)

melted (227442) | about 5 years ago | (#28617521)

I went to Toyota's UK site and looked at what's available. Most of the cars there are available with insanely efficient diesel engines, for some cars there's more than one option. And they're more environment friendly, since there's no battery to make and recycle, fuel efficiency is comparable, and the only harmful byproduct is soot, which settles on the ground.

I would LOVE to buy those cars here in the US. Thing is, they're not available here. My plan is to wait until they are, so if Toyota wants to sell me a car, they better offer a diesel one.

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