DEARBORN, Michigan — Ford announced Thursday that it will make its electric-vehicle patents available to competitors in order to help speed up development of the technology, a move that may make the vehicles more affordable and accessible to car shoppers.
Ford says that it holds more 650 patents related to hybrid and electric vehicles, with more than 1,000 still pending.
Ford currently offers six hybrid or fully electric models: the Ford Focus Electric, Ford Fusion Hybrid, Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid, Ford C-Max Hybrid, Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid and the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid.
"Innovation is our goal," said Kevin Layden, director of Ford Electrification Programs, in a statement. "The way to provide the best technology is through constant development and progress. By sharing our research with other companies, we will accelerate the growth of electrified vehicle technology and deliver even better products to customers."
Some of the patents available to competitors include one that covers passive cell balancing to extend battery life, one for technology that increases the efficiency of regenerative braking systems in hybrid vehicles and one related to monitoring driver inputs to improve driving habits and increase efficiency.
Ford's announcement follows a similar move by Tesla Motors a year ago, in which CEO Elon Musk announced that Tesla would share its EV patents with rival automakers.
"Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport," Musk wrote on his blog. "If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal."
And, as previously reported by Edmunds, Toyota announced earlier this year at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show that it planned to make almost 2,000 patents related to fuel-cell technology available to other automakers.
Said Bob Carter, Toyota Motors Sales USA senior vice president of automotive operations, in a statement: "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."
Both Tesla and Toyota are making their patents available to competitors without charge. Ford, on the other hand, said it will make its patents available to other companies for a fee.
Ford noted that interested parties can contact its technology commercialization and licensing office or work through AutoHarvest, a collaborative innovation and licensing marketplace that allows automakers to showcase their technology and connect with other members to explore opportunities.
According to Intellectual Asset Management (IAM), a publication that focuses on the ways in which intellectual property can be used to create corporate value, there are a number of ways in which Ford can benefit from this plan.
For one thing, there are the licensing fees, of course. But, says IAM, it also gives Ford a chance to make new contacts with other automakers and suppliers, which will "increase the chances of Ford's technology disseminating throughout the industry" and help meet its goals of accelerating the growth of EVs and serving customers.
"Another clear advantage of making an 'open' patent pledge," writes IAM, "is that it can generate a lot of positive publicity for the companies that do so." And "that in itself could prove to be worth more to Ford than the licensing revenues it generates from these patents in the short term."
Finally, according to IAM: "It could also give Ford some leverage if it decides to assert these patents in the future, since it has already publicized that it is willing to license them. That might serve to weaken any claims made by potential infringers that they were ignorant of Ford's patent coverage in the EV area."
Edmunds says: Ford's decision to share patents will come as good news for consumers waiting for the technology to progress further before making the leap into an EV.