Jack Ellis

This weekend, Crain’s Detroit Business ran a feature looking at AutoHarvest, the non-profit IP exchange platform set up to serve the open innovation needs of the automotive industry and adjacent sectors.

As reported by Crain’s, the AutoHarvest Foundation project has come on leaps and bounds since its inception in August 2011. To date, over 200 organisations have posted information regarding their technology requirements and offerings to the AutoHarvest website. Other members of the platform can view this information to uncover potential partnering opportunities. As an indication of the high-level support for AutoHarvest’s platform, it counts Chrysler, Delphi, Ford, GM and Visteon among its members. Furthermore, the US Department of Defense has provided information on 70 of its research laboratories to the platform; while the USPTO signed a memorandum of understanding with AutoHarvest last month which will see it share patent data with the organisation and its members. AutoHarvest’s co-founder, president and CEO, Jayson Pankin, told Crain’s that he expects the final operational version of the foundation’s website to go live before the end of this year.

In the most recent issue of IAM, we take an in-depth look at IP-driven collaboration and open innovation in the automotive industry. While the sector is highly competitive, the needs and expectations of the modern consumer are forcing car makers to rethink their traditional business strategies and to cooperate more closely with one another in terms of research and development. “Between government regulations and consumer needs, there is now a need to create a new type of vehicle,” Pankin told IAM. “This is not yesterday’s car, but one that is safe, green, internet connected and infused with rapidly evolving technology. All of the technologies required to create that vehicle do not reside within the millions of square feet of one of the larger OEMs’ [original equipment manufacturers’] R&D facilities – they have to come from other companies, adjacent markets and innovators around the world.”

As a result, automotive industry players are progressively looking at their intellectual property as a tool for facilitating collaboration with competitors, suppliers, SMEs and research institutions. “The complexity of our products and the interaction of the different parts and devices in those products are increasing,” Christian Hahner, head of intellectual property and technology management at Daimler, told IAM. “In every aspect, you have hundreds of touching points where you have to integrate other fields of technology – and this is only possible with cooperation.”

What this all goes to show is that – even in a highly competitive industry like automotive manufacturing – patents and other forms of intellectual property are about so much more than excluding competitors from the marketplace. They enable collaboration, and by allowing different companies, research establishments and other entities to share knowledge and technology, they ensure that a greater range of innovative products and services are available to consumers more rapidly than if R&D were to be exclusively conducted in-house.

Ultimately, however, all of these possibilities flow from the fact that patents are, at their most fundamental level, a right to exclude. Without the ability to enforce those rights effectively, patent owners would not have the security that would allow them to share their inventions and engage in the kind of collaboration we are now seeing in the automotive sector. Those who are pushing for reform of the patent system should be well aware that, in doing so, they could be calling for changes that would severely limit the ability for organisations to collaborate on R&D and to get innovations out of laboratories and factories and into the marketplace.