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By Kermit Lopez

2018 was an eventful year in the world of automotive patenting. A brief review of issued U.S. patents and published patent applications in 2018 reveals a continuing trend by traditional automotive companies (e.g., GM, Ford, Toyota, Nissan, etc) to secure patents in the areas of electric vehicles, self-driving automobiles with AI (Artificial Intelligence) applications, LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), and more. Non-traditional automotive companies such as Uber, Waymo, and others are also continuing to file numerous patent applications in these technological areas.

Ford Global Technologies, LLC, for example, recently received U.S. Patent No. 10,151,132 for a “Power Management for Vehicle Door System” that includes features directed toward autonomous vehicle operations.  A recent issued patent for Uber Technologies, Inc. – U.S. Patent No. 10,140,468 – covers a secure start system that can transmit credentials to an authentication system based on the detection of the startup of an autonomous vehicle. Toyota’s U.S. Patent No. 10,145,945offers a unique approach to automatically calibrating a LIDAR device using information from a secondary vehicle. Robert Bosch GmbH (“Bosch”) is another company with a growing autonomous vehicle patent portfolio with issued patents such as U.S. Patent No. 10,150,474 for “Reducing Lateral Position Deviation During an Automated Lane Change”.

With the acquisition by Intel Corporation of the Israeli startup Mobileye in 2017, Intel inherited a sizeable patent portfolio of U.S. and foreign issued and pending patents covering numerous driver assist, collision warning and autonomous vehicle technologies. The Mobileye acquisition transformed Intel into a major leader in self-driving automobile intellectual property with numerous Mobileye patents issuing in 2018.

The so-called “Internet-of-Things” (IoT) is another area in which automotive companies have focused their patenting efforts in 2018. For example, General Motors was recently issued U.S. Patent No. 10,011,156for a “Cloud-Based in-Car HVAC System” that provides automated climate control.  Ford was issued U.S. Patent No. 9,942,971 for “Detecting outages in a LED Lamp Assembly” that discloses a detection circuit that may be used in IoT applications.

Patents have been and will continue to be a key tool for the advancement of automotive technologies, because of their usefulness in protecting technological assets and encouraging developments in automotive areas such as autonomous vehicles. Mobileye’s patent portfolio, for example, was an important aspect of Intel’s acquisition of Mobileye. 2019 will likely see an increase in automotive patent activity along with industry acquisitions in which patents play a key role.

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