Ford EV Patents Open, Not Free; You Can License For a Fee

Once is an isolated incident, twice could be a coincidence, but three times – that may make a trend.  Following Tesla’s big patent giveaway about a year ago and Toyota’s fuel cell vehicle patent limited license offer a few months ago, Ford recently announced that it has “opened” its electric vehicle patent portfolio.

Don’t get too excited, though.  This one is fundamentally different from the prior patent pledges.  Ford is not donating its patents or even offering limited-time royalty-free licenses to the patents.

Rather, Ford is offering the patents for license “for a fee” as the company’s press release explains.  In view of the other automakers’ EV freebies, Ford issued a brief statement in defense of it’s for-profit licensing scheme (reproduced here from a Financial Times article):

Defending the decision to charge for the patents, the company said “We’re proud of the work that we do.”  It added: “From the research we’ve conducted already, we feel that licensing is appropriate.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  To the contrary, companies should generate revenue from their R&D, their innovation, and their patents.

But the headline of the announcement obscures the fact that it’s a for-profit licensing venture (“Ford Opens Portfolio of Patented Technologies to Competitors to Accelerate Industry-Wide Electrified Vehicle Development”).

In intellectual property, the word “open” signals free use or public domain (e.g., open source), and the headline is particularly misleading in view of the recent Tesla and Toyota royalty-free patent license moves in this field.  Note Toyota’s press release also used “open” (“Toyota Opens the Door and Invites the Industry to the Hydrogen Future”).

Of course, reasonable people can differ in opinion as to whether the developing EV industry is better served by truly open patent portfolios or revenue generating licensing opportunities.  But either way, the patent holders should not mislead and should get the messaging right.

By the way, this trend of pledging patents appears to be a hot topic:  it’s the subject of a recent article by Professor Jorge Contreras called Patent Pledges and a conference held just yesterday at American University.

 

Eric Lane Avatar

Eric Lane

Eric Lane, the founder and principal of Green Patent Law, is an intellectual property lawyer and registered U.S. patent attorney in New York and is a member of the bar in New York and California. Eric has more than two decades of experience working with wind, solar PV, CSP, biofuels, and geothermal, energy storage technologies, carbon capture and sequestration, medical devices, data communications, mechanical, chemical, internet and software.