How good are the Tesla patents? Who might want a free license?

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Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk recently announced that “all of our patents belong to you’, for reasons described below: 

At Tesla, however, we felt compelled to create patents out of concern that the big car companies would copy our technology and then use their massive manufacturing, sales and marketing power to overwhelm Tesla. We couldn’t have been more wrong. The unfortunate reality is the opposite: electric car programs (or programs for any vehicle that doesn’t burn hydrocarbons) at the major manufacturers are small to non-existent, constituting an average of far less than 1% of their total vehicle sales.

At best, the large automakers are producing electric cars with limited range in limited volume. Some produce no zero emission cars at all.

Given that annual new vehicle production is approaching 100 million per year and the global fleet is approximately 2 billion cars, it is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis. By the same token, it means the market is enormous. Our true competition is not the small trickle of non-Tesla electric cars being produced, but rather the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day.

We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform. 

Some others have claimed that Tesla are acting for the less pure motive of trying to create a technology standard that they will still have some a commercial stake in, or that they really are more interested in selling batteries (including to other car companies) than cars. Here at Ambercite we might leave the analysis of Tesla’s strategy to McKinseys, but we are interested as patent analysts in these more simple questions:

  • How good are the Tesla patents?
  • Who is filing patents that cite these patents, i.e. might most appreciate a free licence to them?

To answer, we can use the Portfolio Benchmarking report we have recently developed. A search for patents owned by Tesla Motors in Espacenet uncovered 196 unique patents (after Espacenet had removed duplicates). We ran these numbers through the our analysis process, and 190 of these patents were recognised by our system (the other 6 had just been published not yet been processed by our data analytics engine). Where patents were listed as being filed by an individual, we looked up the most likely corporate owner of these patents.

When were the patents filed?

The first Tesla patent was only filed in 2007, and filing activity has built up since then, as shown in the figure below. The dip in 2013 might be due to the 18 month gap between the filing of new patents and their publication – and should be disregarded at this point in time.

Patents-filed-by-Tesla.jpg

 

What were their best patents?

Ambercite has recently developed a Portfolio Benchmarking report for reviewing a portfolio of reports. 

Within these portfolio reports, AmberScore has been developed to predict what may be the most important patents, based on citation connections. Only 7 Tesla patents had AmberScore values greater than 1, which is the average for US patents less than 20 years old. At this point in time, there is little evidence that the Tesla patents are going to have a big impact in their field, with the possible exception of US7698078, which covers a method for remote monitoring of the battery in an electric vehicle. This has has both a very interesting range of forward citing companies, and very broad claims:

1. A method of communicating with an electric vehicle, said method including the steps of:

  • installing a communication device in the electric vehicle;
  • establishing a connection from the vehicle to a network;
  • communicating with a user interface via said network; and
  • controlling and monitoring a battery in the electric vehicle via a device remote from the electric vehicle.

These seven highest scoring Tesla patents are listed below:


Patent number (filing date)


Patent title


AmberScore (Local dominance)


Forward citation count


# forward citations filed in last 5 years


Backward citation count


Most common owner of forward citation patents


US7698078 (2007-07-18)


Electric vehicle communication interface


2.9


(84%)


36


29


30


IBM (3), Daimler [Benz] (2), GM (2) Porsche(1), Siemens (1)


US7890218  (2007-07-18)


Centralized multi-zone cooling for increased battery efficiency


1.8


(61%)


14


10


41


Tesla (3), Ferrari (2), Porsche (1) Commscope(1), GM(1)


US8696051   (2012-12-06)


System for absorbing and distributing side impact energy utilizing a side sill assembly with a collapsible sill insert


1.6


(60%)


1


1


82


Renault (1)


US8720968  (2012-05-29)


Charge port door with electromagnetic latching assembly


1.3


(71%)


3


3


44


Tesla (1), Nissan (1), Toyota (1)


US8402776  (2012-03-23)


Thermal management system with dual mode coolant loops


1.2


(21%)


1


1


55


Hyundai (1)


US8664907  (2011-01-31)


Fast switching for power inverter


1.0


(77%)


3


3


18


Tesla (2), GE (1)


US8054038  (2009-01-29)


System for optimizing battery pack cut-off voltage


1.0


(59%)


17


17


11


Cisco (3), VW (2), Denso (1), Yazaki (1)

 

US80544038 looks like it might become a more influential patent in future years, as it is already attracting a good range of forward citations.

The remainder of the Tesla patents can be reviewed by clicking on the image below:

Tesla-portfolio-image.jpg

 

Who is filing the most forward citations?

Besides Tesla, only General Motors has filed a high number of patents that cite the Tesla patents, as shown below:

 

Owners-of-forward-citations-from-Tesla-patents.jpg

 

This is only a partial list of car or well known companies with forward citaitons. The full list includes:

  • Toyota
  • Peugeot Citroen
  • Renault
  • Hyundai
  • Samsung
  • Suzuki
  • Ferrari
  • IBM
  • LG
  • Lear Corporation
  • Ford
  • Polaris
  • Nissan
  • Panasonic
  • Honda

In other words, a lot of companies appear to be interested in electric vehicles or associated technologies

 

Summary

This short review of the Tesla patent has shown that

  • They are all quite recent
  • With the exception of the very broad US7698078, these patents are yet to have a significant impact on the patent literature – but they are all comparitively recent.
  • General Motors is the company who may benefit the most from a free license to these patents. But many other car companie are filing similar patents/

 

PS – how does this compare to other patent portfolios?

For contrast, the Tesla patent portfolio can be compared to other reports we have published for:

And your own patent porfolio? Please contact us for details of how we can benchmark your own portfolio against these other published results.

 

Follow up – how valid is Tesla’s leading patent, US7698078?

In a follow-up to this blog, we conduct a search for uncited but relevant prior art – and find some patents at least as good if not better as anything found by the examiner. Click here for further details.

Read more