UK: IP Analytics Newsletter - August 2018

Last Updated: 23 August 2018
Article by Andrew Flaxman and David Hammond

Autonomous Vehicles

"Self-driving cars are the natural extension of active safety and obviously something we should do." These were the words of Elon Musk, CEO and co- founder of electric car giant, Tesla back in 2013. It's a view shared by many people active in the car industry today. Written by Andrew Flaxman

In recent years, the entire automotive sector appears to have broadened its focus to develop systems for autonomous vehicles, with the main aim of developing a safe driverless vehicle. Of course, the technology required for such vehicles has been in development for years - computer processor technology capable of performing millions of vital functions in fractions of a second, and communications technologies to allow vehicle subsystems to communicate with one another, with subsystems of other vehicles, and with other systems outside the vehicle, to name just a few. Many systems essential for driverless vehicles are already features of vehicles available today: vehicle-to-vehicle distance detection, intelligent parking assistance systems (IPAS), electronic stability control (ESC), and so on. But further developments have made it possible for computers to take greater control of vehicles, and the possibility of our roads being full of vehicles without drivers is no longer just a pipe dream.

While we're still some way off the time when cars will be functioning on public roads entirely without human control, some aspects of autonomous vehicles are by no means new. Ground vehicles capable of transporting people to destinations without an operator have been used for decades. In the Netherlands, for example, the ParkShuttle system transports passengers between five stations along a dedicated roadway.

ParkShuttle, which has been in running since 1999, operates minibuses that are guided along a set path by magnetic cables laid in the road, in a system known as "Free Ranging on Grid" (FROG).

Over the past few years, the development and testing of autonomous vehicles has received copious amounts of press coverage (both positive and negative), and it will be clear even to those unfamiliar with the technology that there has been a rapid increase in research and development in the field of vehicle automation. Our patent search and analytics team, HL Analytics, have looked at patent filing data to identify trends in this interesting and bourgeoning area.

Our first chart shows conclusively that, year-on-year, there has been strong growth in the numbers of patent applications filed in this area.

Year-on-year growth in patent applications published and patents granted. Data for patent filings in 2017 is incomplete as applications typically take 18 months to publish

As we might expect, the number of autonomous vehicle-related patent applications published around the world has seen a large rise since around 2011. The rise appears to have reduced slightly in 2016, but we are yet to understand if this represents an overall peak in filing figures in this field or just a blip in the rapid rise. Patent applications typically remain confidential for 18 months after filing, so the complete filing figures for 2017 won't be available until mid-2019. The published applications included in the above chart for 2017 represent cases which have been subject to accelerated examination/early publication.

So, where are all these patent applications being filed? Many of the news stories we've seen in recent months relate to developments made by household names in the autonomous vehicle industry - think Uber, Waymo, Tesla - all of whom are based in Silicon Valley on the west coast of the USA. While significant numbers of patent applications are being filed in other jurisdictions too, the USA seems to be the place to gain patent protection in this field, with over double the number of filings in the USA than in the next most popular jurisdiction, Germany.

Top jurisdictions for published patent applications relating to autonomous vehicles (cumulative figures, unrestricted by date)

While more applications are filed in the US than any other jurisdiction, the number of filings in other jurisdictions is not insignificant. With many major players in the vehicle manufacture market based in Germany, it is expected that patent protection in this jurisdiction will be important to many companies active in the autonomous vehicle field.

With our next charts, we consider which companies are in the driving seat when it comes to autonomous vehicles.

The following two charts show filing data for the most active applicants in this field. The first chart details the number of patent applications published and the number of patents granted to each of the top 20 filers. Car manufacturing giant, Ford, tops the table in terms of applications filed, ahead of Robert Bosch GmbH, Toyota and GM Global Technology Operations LLC. Google's spin-out, Waymo appear in fifth place in the chart.

Patent applications published and patents granted in the field of autonomous vehicles for top 20 applicants

It is also interesting to note that, despite the large number of applications filed by Ford, the number of granted patents is relatively small. In contrast, Waymo, having a lower number of patent applications published, have the largest number of granted patents of any company in the top 20. As the next chart shows, this is indicative of Ford's huge increase in patent filing activity in recent years after almost no filings in the autonomous vehicle field prior to 2013.

Yearly breakdown of autonomous vehicle patent applications filed by various applicants active over the past two decades

Of interest in the yearly breakdown chart above are the relatively strong filing figures for Honda, Nissan and Daimler in the period from around 1998 to 2005, before a long lull, with filing figures for all three companies picking up over the past few years.

It is clear that many companies are active in the field of automotive vehicles, and that the number of patent applications filed in this field has increased rapidly over the past few years. Many of the large car manufacturers now appear to be involved in developing technology for use in autonomous vehicles.

However, within the broad field of autonomous vehicles, there are a number of areas of technology in which companies are focussing their research and development.

The chart below shows the types of technologies in which each of the big filers is involved. Of course, this analysis is somewhat crude, since a patent application may relate to more than one technology. The chart does, however, give us an idea of the types of areas in which companies appear to be have focussed within the broad field of autonomous vehicles.

Pertinent technologies within the autonomous vehicle field in which the top filers are filing patent applications

Ford appear to be advancing steadily in all areas of technology relating to the development of autonomous vehicles. Google/Waymo lead the field in the number of patent applications relating to scene and sign recognition; this might be due to their ability to transfer image and feature recognition techniques from the web to vehicles. Aircraft manufacturing giant, Boeing, has filed a small number of patents in the field of artificial intelligence, showing that development in this area is not limited to ground vehicles. And we should not be fooled into believing that the relatively low filing numbers for some companies indicates that they are not planning to roll out a driverless car.

BMW, for example, have teamed up with Intel (who don't appear on our chart, but are almost certainly developing general technology that can be implemented into autonomous vehicles) and Mobileye, who are world leaders in collision-avoidance using scene recognition techniques. In fact, there are many partnerships between companies appearing in the above charts (and not appearing in the charts), enabling development of roadworthy and safe driverless vehicles through sharing knowledge, expertise and research and development resources.

So, what's next for the development of autonomous vehicles? Will taxi drivers and couriers all soon become redundant? Will we soon be able to eat breakfast and watch the morning news while driving to work? Well, one day, maybe.

Everyone wants to be the first to release a safe driverless vehicle for use on public roads, and recent press coverage seems to suggest that we're getting close to seeing fully autonomous cars on our roads in the not-too-distant future. Some companies have set targets of having fleets of driverless cars active within the next 2 to 3 years. But there are still many issues to be considered and resolved before we go fully driverless.

For example, who is responsible in the event of an accident? How will driverless cars deal with changes in road laws in different countries? Can we be entirely sure that someone won't hack into a vehicle's computer? These and many other issues are currently under discussion, and will no doubt remain as hot topics for the foreseeable future.

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 Mondaq.com.

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

Authors
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
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
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

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 or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq 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 of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions