Ford opens up its electric and hybrid car patent portfolio ... for a fee
Last Summer, Tesla did something very unexpected, something that very few companies on the planet would do. They decided to "open source" all of their patents and allow anyone including their competitors - especially their competitors - to use them for free. In a letter titled "All Our Patent Are Belong To You" published on Tesla's site, CEO Elon Musk wrote that "Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal."
This was the Californian company's way of showing that they don't really view other EV makers as their competition, but rather it's the non-EV vehicles that are the true enemy. So by helping other EV makers with their intellectual property, they are actually recruiting allies to help them achieve their mission.
Ford is in a different situation. The company has put a lot of R&D efforts into the electrification of its vehicles (mostly hybrids and plug-in hybrids so far), but the vast majority of what it sells is still powered by gasoline, so there's an internal conflict there that probably prevents the company from being purely pro-EVs.
To its credit, the company has nonetheless decided to help its fellow EV makers by opening up its portfolio of electric and hybrid-related patents. According to Ford, it has "more than 650 electrified vehicle patents and approximately 1,000 pending patent applications on electrified vehicle technologies." 400 of those patents were filed in 2014, so they're accelerating development.
But Ford didn't quite as far as Tesla. It is making its patents available to other automakers, but for a fee. A Ford spokeswoman told me that "the costs will vary based on a number of factors, but the goal is to make it really reasonable for people to use them -- they won't be prohibitive."
That's good, but I still wish that Ford had just made them "open source", hopefully helping to start a movement among other EV makers (Nissan, GM, Toyota, etc) to create a kind of collective super-patent-pool from which everyone can draw inspiration rather than having to re-invent the wheel again and again. This would certainly help accelerate the development of electric cars.