Cleantech Davids against a dirty GoliathWhen Tesla open-sourced all of its patents last summer, I hoped that it would help change the current climate in the high-tech world, with "most high-tech companies hoarding patents and suing each other, creating a complex web of cold war-style mutually-assured destruction." It looks like it might have had an impact, because Toyota is now release a treasure trove of hydrogen fuel cell patents, making them royalty-free.
"Toyota will invite royalty-free use of approximately 5,680 fuel cell related patents held globally, including critical technologies developed for the new Toyota Mirai [pictured above]. The list includes approximately 1,970 patents related to fuel cell stacks, 290 associated with high-pressure hydrogen tanks, 3,350 related to fuel cell system software control and 70 patents related to hydrogen production and supply."
“It’s obvious that there can be a higher societal value in openly sharing our IP,” said Bob Carter, a senior VP with Toyota’s US office. “By eliminating the traditional corporate boundaries, we can speed the metabolism of everyone’s research and move into a future of mobility quicker, more effectively, and more economically. Indeed I believe today marks a turning point in automotive history.”
Whether you are a fan of hydrogen fuel cells - and there are lots of pros and cons* - the general idea of opening up patents should definitely get more attention. The real competition for green tech is not other green tech, but the old, dirty incumbents. Tesla is not really competing against Nissan's electric cars, but against the billions of gasoline and diesel cars out there. Same for Toyota's fuel cell efforts. So why can't the Davids help each other and band together against the fossil-fuel powered Goliath?
*While I personally think that battery electric cars are a lot more likely to eventually replace the internal combustion engine than hydrogen fuel cells, it's always good to work on multiple technologies at the same time. For example, wind power had a head start for a long while, but it's a very good thing that engineers kept working on the then less cost-effective solar power technologies because now solar on a trend to overtake wind and basically take over the world in the coming decades.
I'm not saying that I think this is what will happen with fuel cells, but you never know. They might proven very useful in certain specific applications (which might not be cars, or even vehicles), and a lot of the work done on them is transferable (they are, after all, electric cars too). Time will tell!