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Thomson Reuters analysis finds automotive new propulsion technology patent activities surge 6-fold in 5 years

Automotive patent filings reduced to one document per DWPI family charted by category and the publication year of the earliest family member. Source: Thomson Innovation & Thomson Reuters Derwent World Patents Index. Click to enlarge.

An analysis of the global automobile industry’s recent patent activity by the Intellectual Property & Science business of Thomson Reuters has found a massive commitment from carmakers and their suppliers to new propulsion technology. Patent data from 2009 through July 2014 show that activity in propulsion technology grew from fewer than 2,000 patents to nearly 12,000: more than any other technology area in the automotive industry. It was also the only area of patents to reflect a year-over-year growth in the five-year span.

For the report, “The State of Innovation in the Automotive Industry”, Thomson Reuters broke patent activity in the automotive industry into five broad categories: Propulsion; Navigation (which included telematics); Handling (which included autonomous driving); Safety & Security (which included driver assistance systems); and Entertainment.

Top automotive patent assignees from publication year 2009 to 2013 based on number of individual inventions. Source: Thomson Innovation & Thomson Reuters Derwent World Patents Index. Click to enlarge.

The report found that Toyota is the auto world’s top innovator from a patent perspective, with more than 7,000 patent assignments to the company during the period covered, The company is one of five Japanese carmakers (the others being Honda, Denso, Seiko Epson, Mitsubishi) in the top ten, the most of any country. In contrast, the United States’ one representative in the top 10 assignees, General Motors, is seventh on the list, with short of 3,000 patents.

Toyota also was the top propulsion patent assignee, closely followed by Bosch. Both of these have a substantial lead over the other top propulsion assignees: Denso, GM, Honda, Daimler, Hyundai, Mitsubishi, Continental and Peugeot.

Although alternate power systems received much focus in the propulsion category, innovations to increase the fuel economy of internal combustion engines were also an area of intense interest and innovation.

For patent publications associated with inovations in the fuel economy of internal combustion engines, Hyundai was the leader, followed by GM and Ford.

The clock is quickly ticking towards Model Year 2025, where US automakers’ fleets will be required by law to boast an average fuel efficiency of 54.5 miles per gallon – and the industry is working diligently to comply. The 2012 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) mandate seems to have set the agenda for the next decade of car manufacturing, and the huge spike in propulsion patents reflect this prevailing trend.

—Bob Stembridge, an intellectual property analyst at Thomson Reuters

The one Korean automaker in the top ten, Hyundai, earned the distinction as the fastest growing patentee, climbing from a low point of under 500 in 2010. Since then it is on a remarkable sprint toward the top, resulting in nearly 1,200 patent filings in 2013, enough to rank them third on the most-assigned list.

The report also found that Connected Vehicle Technology is gaining momentum. Companies as diverse as General Motors, LG and United Parcel Service are actively patenting in the field.

Patent activity in the four remaining auto categories (navigation, handling, safety and security, and entertainment) stayed flat or dipped, with safety and security being the lone exception. Less than 1,000 patents were filed in 2009 in the safety and security classification, a number that grew to roughly 2,500 in 2013.

Data for this report were aggregated using Thomson Reuters Derwent World Patents Index (DWPI) to identify global patent activity in the automobile industry. Within each category, researchers analyzed the total number of unique inventions (each invention was counted only once) issued in published patent applications and granted patents between January 2009 and July 2014.



More patents often means fewer applications. Patents do not benefit the end users, on the contrary, it deprises users from lattest techologies and increases final cost.


I was reading about the number of battery patents, LG has thousands, that is just ONE company. Patents are land mines waiting to be stepped on, they do NO good for the people of the country, they are used as a monopoly license. Issue far fewer patents for shorter periods, pay back development and compete.


That's why I am glad to see ongoing collaboration among the Automakers, often times there is a trade of patents...

if patent holders got to be too restrictive/greedy, I could see cause for the government to step in and cap royalties or 'buyout' patents.

I am very hands off, but I could see the need for stopping people that abuse the patent system.

But the good news is that in around 10-20 years time, we will see an impressive amount of innovation coming off of patent protection. I bet car companies are already developing cars using technology that they know will come off of protection by the time it releases.


Most patents are actually worthless. Only a few have any value, thus assigning the number of total patents as a measure of standing within a developing field is a relatively shallow evaluation. One must know which patents have value and those few patents may not be held by the people with the largest number of patents. I suppose for those business guys with no understanding of the physical sciences the assumption is that the valuable patents are randomly distributed throughout the entire collection of topic patents, but that is likely not true. Also, patents are not eternal, and thus much technology is public domain. The metal hydride battery patents for instance that many people claim GM used to prevent electric cars have now run out. So use that if you want. Much Li ion technology is also public domain. In 2030 much of the technology now in use in lithium ion will be publicly available for use. Patents are rarely profitable and can only slow progress, not stop it. Search the patents for 18-20 years ago and you will see what is about to become available for public use.

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