LAS VEGAS — Toyota just rocked the auto industry by announcing that it is opening to the public 5,680 of its patents related to fuel cell technology for royalty-free use.
Bob Carter, the company’s senior vice-president of automotive operations, delivered the news on Monday at CES, following an elaborate presentation that touted the strengths of its fuel cell vehicle, the Toyota Mirai.
There was a collective gasp from the audience after Carter’s announcement, likely because the decision could help jumpstart this area of the automotive industry, which is exactly what Toyota is counting on.
“By eliminating traditional corporate boundaries, we can speed the development of new technologies, and move into the future of mobility more quickly, effectively and economically,” Carter said.
Just before Carter made his announcement, famed theoretical physicist Michio Kaku delivered a speech about the future of technology in general, as well as the future of cars as represented by the Mirai. (For fans of Kaku, it was both a treat to see him, but also a slight letdown that one of the leading minds behind superstring theory is promoting cars — no matter how futuristic those cars may be.) All in all, Toyota’s point was clear: It is focused on future tech, and the Mirai (Japanese for “future”) is a big part of that focus.
For many, Toyota’s patent announcement will bring to mind Tesla’s 2014 decision to make its electric-vehicle technology open to competitors. It’s unclear what this new approach to patents means for the automotive industry, but when a major company like Toyota follows Tesla into the royalty-free patent space, it suggests a clear trend toward greater openness.
“The first generation hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, launched between 2015 and 2020, will be critical,” Carter said. “[Their launch will require] a concerted effort and unconventional collaboration between automakers, government regulators, academia and energy providers.”