In recent years the auto industry has become a hive of patenting activity, with R&D focused on autonomous driving, electric vehicles and batteries. As well as the leading OEMs and tier one suppliers found in Table 7, other notable players active in battery research include Samsung and Toshiba. Meanwhile, in areas such as human-machine interface technologies and connected vehicles, the list of leaders features LG, Sony and Samsung. Much of the focus in terms of battery research has been towards wired/wireless charging, better cooling solutions and reducing vehicle weight.
The sector has also witnessed several high-profile litigation cases as convergence means that more and more cellular communication standards (eg, 4G) are being incorporated into a growing fleet of new vehicles. These disputes include Continental v Avanci (which has been dismissed by a US district court) and Nokia v Daimler.
One of the most prominent spats involved Broadcom, which sued Volkswagen for alleged infringement of its patents pertaining to wireless connectivity, graphics and GPS tracking. The battle between one of the largest chip manufacturers and a leading OEM clearly illustrates the clash of technologies. It also highlights marked differences in the value that patented technologies deliver to the end product, how licensing royalties should be calculated and where in the supply chain a patent owner should be expected to license.
While Broadcom and Volkswagen settled their dispute out of court for an undisclosed sum, many of the patent and licensing-related questions confronting the traditional giants of the space remain unresolved. Given the importance of the auto industry to countries such as Germany, this is a challenge with particular resonance in Europe.
Table 1. Automotive players in the top 100
|Company name||EU grants||Industry||Country of origin|
|General Motors||4,788||Automotive||United States|
|Ford Motor Company||3,511||Automotive||United States|
Table 2. Automotive technology trends
|Top trends||Top players||Active grants||Top players 2019-2020||Active grants 2019-2020||Key areas||Other key players|
Advanced driver assistance system
Parking assistance, automatic breaking, traffic control, lane departure, LiDAR/SONAR-based detecting and sensing
LG Corp, Hitachi
|Toyota Motors||1,107||Toyota Motors||291|
Parallel hybrid vehicle, HEV transmission, engine control in HEV, electrical vehicle charging (wired, wireless)
|General Motors||336||General Motors||71|
Battery charging (wired/ wireless), power storage unit, battery cooling arrangements, propulsion battery construction
|Toyota Motors||224||Toyota Motors||71|
V2X controls, driverless controls, IoT enabled vehicles, human-machine interface vehicles, 5G enabled vehicles, AI enabled vehicles, shared mobility
LG Corp., Sony, Samsung
|Robert Bosch||73||Robert Bosch||34|
|Toyota Motors||58||Toyota Motors||32|