Europe to close gap with Japan and Korea in automotive propulsion IP

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A global study of the automotive industry’s patent activity has shown a sharp upturn in innovation to develop new propulsion technologies.

According to patent attorneys Withers & Rogers, while much of this innovation activity is currently being undertaken by Japanese and Korean manufacturers, European activity in this area is expected to grow in the next few years.

The Thomson Reuters report - The State of Innovation in the Automotive Industry – shows that global patent filings made in relation to propulsion technologies, such as engine design and hybrid drive systems, increased from less than 2,000 in 2009 to nearly 12,000 by July 2014.

According to the report, the top innovator is Toyota  with over 7,000 patents assigned over the five year period.

Toyota is also one of five Japanese manufacturers – the others being Honda, Denso, Seiko Epson and Mitsubishi – to feature among the top ten firms in terms of the volume of patents assigned to them.

Korean manufacturer Hyundai was also noted as the firm that has increased its patent activity most significantly, from 500 patent filings in 2010 to 1,200 in 2013, which enough to put them in third position overall in terms of the number of patents assigned to them.

Other areas of technology that are attracting a high volume of patent filings from automotive firms include those related to connected vehicle technology and safety and security.

In a statement, James Gray, partner and patent attorney at Withers & Rogers said: ‘This report confirms the high level of interest in propulsion technologies around the world.

‘This area of tech innovation is attracting attention because of the move towards more fuel efficient vehicles.  EU legislation sets mandatory CO2 emissions targets for new cars and the average for fleet vehicles in 2015 is 130 grams of CO2 per kilometre – dropping to 95 grams per kilometre by 2021. The race is on to meet these targets, with vehicle manufacturers innovating in areas such as engine downsizing coupled with forced induction, cylinder deactivation and electric hybrid drive systems.  

‘Here in the UK, the Government’s Office for Low Emission Vehicles is providing funding with the aim of positioning the UK at the forefront of the development of cleaner, more fuel-efficient vehicles.  This will almost certainly result in an innovation spike in the UK too.’