Toyota Holds On Hard to Its Hybrid Head-Start
As evolutionary as the changes to Toyota’s third-generation Prius may seem on the surface, beneath the familiar sheetmetal lurks enough new technology to justify over 1,000 new patents. The Wall Street Journal reports that through three generations of the Prius, Toyota has generated over 2,000 patents on hybrid technology, half stemming from the latest generation alone. Toyota’s hybrid patent filing nearly doubles the number filed by Honda, its closest hybrid competitor. And the WSJ casts this “thicket of patents” as Toyota tightening its stranglehold on the hybrid market.
Toyota won’t disclose how many lawyers it employs for IP and licensing duty, or how much revenue it gains from its patents. Toyota’s cross-licensing with Ford, for example, does not generate revenue. The real effect of Toyota’s patent strategy though is to push other firms to leapfrog the established technology. Nissan’s all-electric strategy, GM’s Extended-Range Electric model, Honda’s persistence with IMA “mild” hybrids all flow from Toyota’s careful patenting of its Synergy Drive system.
Though the circumstances encourage innovation and experimentation, Toyota’s long-term approach make possible the luxury of conservativism. While other firms work around Toyota’s intellectual property, the world’s largest automaker can focus on dialing performance in and wringing the costs out of its tried-and-true system.
More by Edward Niedermeyer