Toyota opens over 5,600 patents on fuel-cell tech until 2020

Article by Andrew Christian, on January 9, 2015

Toyota Motor Corp. won’t enforce over 5,600 patents it owns on hydrogen fuel-cell technology until 2020, which means that other carmakers could use them royalty-free. Toyota follows a similar move by Tesla Motors Inc. in 2013, when it declared its patents as open-source to hasten the adoption of battery electric vehicles.

Toyota is believed to be doing the same, as the Japanese gets ready to launch the hydrogen-fueled sedan in the United States this fall. For its part, Toyota is betting that sharing the technology for free would make the auto industry more interested in fuel cells and help hydrogen become a viable alternative to gasoline.

The 5,680 patents include 1,970 patents related to the fuel cell “stack;” 3,350 patents on the software for controlling the fuel cell system; 290 patents related to hydrogen storage tanks; and 70 patents for hydrogen production and supply. So far, fuel cell vehicles have been hindered by very high development costs and the lack of a fueling infrastructure.

In fact, only around a dozen public hydrogen fueling stations are operating in the US. However, if carmakers start applying Toyota’s fuel cell patents to build cars, trucks and buses, as well as supplement Toyota’s investments in hydrogen infrastructure, there could be rapid spurt of hydrogen fueling stations in the country.

Bob Carter, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.’s senior vice president of automotive operations, said in a statement that first generation hydrogen FCVs rolled out between 2015 and 2020 will be critical, adding that such move requires “a concerted effort and unconventional collaboration.

”He noted that by eliminating “traditional corporate boundaries” -- referring to the patents -- the development of new technologies could be faster, more effective and more economical. Toyota has announced that the Mirai FCV will have a tag of $57,500, before federal and California incentives of about $13,000.

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