UK: Electric Vehicles & IP

Last Updated: 23 May 2012
Article by Barry Welch

In 1996 General Motors released the EV1, the first mass-produced electric automobile from a major auto-manufacturer. It was not a success; its production, then subsequent recall and destruction formed the basis of the 2006 documentary 'Who Killed The Electric Car?'1. While the level of production was unprecedented, the technology itself was not, Electric Vehicle (EV) technology stretches back as far as 1900 when a series hybrid Porsche EV was released, recently rebuilt and on display as the Semper Vivus2. EV technology has long been in development, related patents can be found in 19th century filings, although it is only since 1970 (Figure 2) that sustained filings in this area have been made, quickly rising to around 0.2% of all patent filings per year and then remaining fairly steady for around 20 years as the technology was making inroads. In the mid 1990s patent filings on EV technology doubled, and with the release of the GM EV1 the future of the EV looked assured. But it didn't quite work out as planned, almost 100 years after the first EV release, still the petrol engine was far ahead of the field and showed little sign of slowing.

It took a petrol electric hybrid to become the first real EV success story. Shortly after the release of the EV1, in 1997, Toyota released the Prius, a series hybrid electric vehicle that has since risen to become the largest selling EV of all time, with over 2 million sold worldwide. With proof that there was a market for EV technology outside of a few select niches, patent filings began to rise and the rest of the auto-industry put their EV plans into play, but with such a head start, could anyone catch Toyota and the Prii3? A search for electric vehicle focused patents show that the largest holder is Toyota, little surprise there given their dominant market position. Other major manufacturers such as GM, Ford and Honda are closest behind shown in Figure 2. However with almost twice as many EV patents as the next highest, GM, this still suggests the upper hand for Toyota.

But Toyota don't just have a large number of EV patents, they have a large number of patents full stop, and as a percentage of their overall IP output, the level of EV filing is only on a par with several of the other 'pioneers'. In fact only two companies of the top 15 EV patent holders have any more than 10% of their patents directly related to EVs - Hyundai and Tesla, with Tesla by far and away the most committed with around 40%, even selling their EV components to rival companies such as Toyota and Daimler. A look at Figure 4 will show the difference between a strategy such as theirs in EV IP filing and that of the larger companies with a greater legacy focus on combustion engine technology. Standing out from such companies is Hyundai, who seem to have an almost total inclusion of EV technology in recent filings. Does this suggest a shift in their strategy heavily towards electric vehicles or simply a more generic approach to description of application within patent filings?

Looking closer at the data, EV patents that directly reference hybrid drive technology can be examined to attempt to understand the uptake of this technology area, seen by some as a stopgap measure on the way to cutting out the combustion engine entirely. Others are not so sure, and development interests are often hedged between full EV, hybrid and other methods. Figure 5 shows the relative uptake of hybrid related IP within a company's portfolio and from both of these charts we can see that ahead of Toyota, Ford and GM, it is Hyundai which emerges as a company placing a large amount of emphasis on the EV and within that, hybrid drives. Patents relating to hybrids alone form over 50% of their last 3 years' filings, given this information and their upcoming products, EVs will be a key area.

It's hard now to find an auto-manufacturer that doesn't have a pure EV, hybrid or both in production and/or development, a fact which should assure the EV market as a whole is due for significant growth. Certainly consumer concerns on range, efficiency, and other key factors are being addressed with the increase in environmental conscientiousness and concern over fuel prices forcing the market down a one way street, towards EV technology and away from the petrol engine, and issues such as cost and infrastructure doing the same for other alternatives such as hydrogen cells. But having a strong IP position and a clear product strategy are by no means the same thing. Other companies, Renault, Jaguar and Lotus to name-check a few of many have announced a push into the EV market in the near future, whether that is through range extender technology (Lotus), luxury hybrids (Jaguar) or concept city cars (Renault). With a lagging or less complete IP position; companies such as these may have to rely on strategic partnerships, such as Renault's joint strategy with Nissan4.

With the potential for increased intra industry cooperation rife, it won't just be the car manufacturers that have roles to play; developers of vehicle parts, batteries, electronics, and the whole power and charging infrastructure will be affected and will likely be relied upon by many of the companies with a less invested IP position in EV but with the desire to impact on the market. For batteries alone the market value is expected for rise to over $30bn in a few years5. With industries surrounding this and other technologies set for unprecedented levels of growth, the effectiveness of car manufacturers in establishing links with component producers will be vital. Some of the companies with significant amounts of EV related IP can be seen in Figure 3. With the ever increasing level of integration and dependence of electronics in cars, the need for such cross-industry collaboration and partnerships is on the increase, but with this comes a minefield of increased competition and litigation that has long become a recognised risk of operating in consumer electronics and telecommunications.

Automotive manufacture is historically considered to be relatively low on incidents and technologies that have brought about infringement litigation between parties, but this looks set to change. Several recent high profile cases look set to highlight not only the increasing value of IP in the industry, but the lengths some people will go to obtain it. In one case, according to reports between 2003 and 2006, A GM employee, Sanshun Du and her husband, Yu Chin conspired to obtain IP relating to GM's hybrid technology for use in their own company, information estimated to be worth around $40 million. This is by no means an isolated incident, and the levels of suspicion surrounding EV IP led to three of Renault's top executives being dismissed when it was suggested that they had been selling information relating to Renault's 4bn Euro EV plan; a claim made with little more evidence than an 'anonymous' tip-off letter, since thought to be part of an elaborate fraud or even a plan to destabilise Renault's EV programme6. More conventional cases are also becoming more common such as Paice's litigation against Toyota7 for infringement of microprocessor technology, now settled with Toyota making sizable royalty payments. This is almost certainly a sign of things to come as the electronics and components market make inroads into EV manufacture; investment in research and a strong market position is good for business, but success won't come without the need for defensive IP action.

A good indication of which companies are leading the field in terms of research and adopted technology can be gleaned by looking at the level of patent citation, and with almost double the number of EV patents as its nearest rival, you would expect that Toyota would be ahead. However looking at the level of citation for patents of pre and post 2000, Ford, GM and Honda all are clearly ahead based on number of citations. Ford in particular since 2000 have gathered many more (Figure 4). Normalising per year to shift the focus to quality over quantity of citation, Toyota, along with Nissan and GM clearly are ahead on the pre 2000 axis, confirming their status as important early adopters of EV technology, but on the post 2000 axis patents, Ford and Honda lead, closely followed by a chasing pack that are all ahead of Toyota. Suddenly this race just got interesting.

So while more established companies such as Toyota hold the largest share of IP, companies such as Tesla show that a new face can certainly enter the game - It's just a question of now staying the course and surges from companies such as Hyundai may yet produce an upset in the market. So can anyone catch Toyota? The adoption of EVs is only just beginning, and with the number of automobiles in the world approaching 1 billion, a head start of a few million sales is just the start of a long and tough race that anyone could win.

Suggested Links








The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.