Like Tesla, Toyota Is Now Giving Away Its Patents

Toyota fuel cell hydrogen car ces 2014ToyotaToyota’s fuel-cell concept car.

Tesla made news in 2014 when it gave away all its patents, an unheard of move for what is after all still in many ways a scrappy startup car company. 

CEO Elon Musk, from my perspective, was trying to avoid a total collapse of the nascent electric car market. A number of new car companies that emerged around the same time as Tesla have failed. Musk doesn’t want to be operating in a market of one.

Now Toyota has followed suit, but with a different propulsion system: hydrogen fuel cells. The company made the announcement at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas on Monday.

“At Toyota, we believe that when good ideas are shared, great things can happen,” said Bob Carter, Senior Vice President of Automotive Operations at Toyota Motor Sales, USA Inc., in a statement.

He added:

The first generation hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, launched between 2015 and 2020, will be critical, requiring a concerted effort and unconventional collaboration between automakers, government regulators, academia and energy providers.  By eliminating traditional corporate boundaries, we can speed the development of new technologies and move into the future of mobility more quickly, effectively and economically.

However, according to the company, “[T]oday’s announcement represents the first time that Toyota has made its patents available free of charge and reflects the company’s aggressive support for developing a hydrogen-based society.”

Toyota partnered with Tesla on electric-car technology development and until recently owned a stake in Musk’s firm. 

Toyota’s motives are probably similar to Tesla’s: the Japanese automotive giant wants to turbocharge hydrogen fuel-cell development and doesn’t want to be the only company striving to innovate in the space. 

Interestingly, of course, if fuel-cells take off in a big way they could pose a meaningful threat to the ascent of electric cars. So there’s a battle of sorts brewing, with bets being placed on differing technologies while companies takes pages from each other’s strategic playbooks.

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