How valid is Tesla’s leading patent?

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In an earlier and much read blog we reviewed the patent portfolio of Tesla, and concluded that their highest ranked patent was US7698078 for an Electric vehicle communication interface. This patent was filed on 18 July 2014, has a priority date of 15 June 2007, and has as its first claim:

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.

  b2ap3_thumbnail_Tesla-patent-image-1.jpg

 

 But how valid is this patent? This will depend on the prior art, as a patent is only valid if it is novel and inventive over the prior art.  We can divide up this prior art into two categories, namely

  • Prior art either cited by the examiner or supplied by the applicant (“listed prior art”)
  • Prior art not cited by the examiner or applicant (“uncited prior art”). The benefit of the later type of prior art is that it can be used as the basis of re-examination and other actions at the patent office, as it does not have the protection of ‘file wrapper estopal’.

 Ambercite has recently developed a series of Automated Search Reports that can  

a) rank the listed prior art in a predicted order of similarity to the patent being searched on, and 

b) identify up to 60 uncited prior art documents that may be relevant to the patent being searched – and listed in likely order of similarity.

An Automated Search Report for US7698078 can be downloaded by clicking on the image shown below. But what did this search find?

b2ap3_thumbnail_Search-report-thumbnail_b.jpg

 

Listed prior art

The 10 most similar listed prior patents were listed in Section 2 of the report. After reviewing these 10 patents, I think the only truly relevant patent is US6625539 for a method for Range prediction in fleet management of electric and fuel-cell vehicles. There was also a family member listed for the Tesla patent, which I have ignored at this may not be relevant as prior art.

 

Patent (hyperlinks to patent details)

Similarity Rank

Listed patent owner

Title

Filing date

Amberscore (links to AmberScope)

US6625539

4

ELECTRICAB TAXI COMPANY

Range prediction in fleet management of electric and fuel-cell vehicles

2002-11-18

1.8

 

This discloses, in part, a method of managing power cell information resources of a non-petroleum fueled vehicle, particularly electric or fuel cell vehicles of a fleet of vehicles. However I could not find a reference to controlling the battery – instead only for monitoring the battery.

Uncited prior art

The uncited prior art is found in section 3 of the report. Altogether I believe that 10 of these patents (17%) are directly relevant to the Tesla patent. This list of relevant patents is headed by the predicted to be most similar patent, namely US7013205 for a System and method for minimizing energy consumption in hybrid vehicles. This patent was filed in 2004, published in March 2006, and discloses in part:

the system and method of the claimed invention enable optimization of the energy cost associated with the operation of such plug-in hybrid electric vehicles,

As noted above, some embodiments of the invention may locate the computer onboard the hybrid vehicle, while other embodiments may provide for the hybrid vehicle to be connected by wireless network or other means to a computer (including, but not limited to, a server) located somewhere else.

 The difference between a plug in hybrid and a pure electric vehicle is that a plug- in hybrid is an electric vehicle with a petrol motor as well – so the application for this patent is the same as the Tesla patent.

The rest of the 10 patents are listed in the table below

Patent (hyperlinks to patent details)

Predicted similarity Rank

Listed patent owner

Title

Filing date

Amberscore (links to AmberScope)

US7013205

1

IBM

System and method for minimizing energy consumption in hybrid vehicles

2004-11-22

8.2

US5594318

11

NORVIK TRACTION INC

Method of charging a battery for an electric vehicle

1995-04-10

5.1

US7994908

12

TOYOTA MOTOR CO LTD

Vehicle and information apparatus of vehicle

2007-02-23

0.8

US6239508

22

REVEO INC

Electrical power generation system having means for managing the discharging and recharging of metal fuel contained within a network of metal-air fuel cell battery subsystems

1998-09-30

2.3

US6373380

27

FORD MOTOR CO

Communication method and system for configuring electric powered vehicles

2000-10-24

1.2

US7402978

31

GM GLOBAL TECH OPERATIONS INC

System and method for optimizing grid charging of an electric/hybrid vehicle

2006-06-30

4.1

US5327066

33

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY DEV ASS

Methods and apparatus for dispensing a consumable energy source to a vehicle

1993-05-25

11.2

US7309966

37

WOBBEN ALOYS

Motor vehicle

2004-03-25

2.2

US7135956

52

BARTONE ERIK J.

System and method for monitoring and controlling energy usage

2003-10-09

6.7

US7778746

53

CLUB CAR INC

Control and diagnostics system and method for vehicles

2005-07-18

3.2

 

So do these patents invalidate the Tesla patent? That is for others to decide, but in my view this prior art is pretty relevant, either from a novelty or obviousness viewpoint.

 

Invalidating patents you are concerned about

This simple example was able to identify 10 relevant but uncited prior art patents for a granted US patent, with the uncited prior art appearing to be at least as relevant as any of the listed prior art.

Ambercite is happy to supply a similar list of results for a patent you may want to invalidate. Pricing starts from $500 and we run these reports in about one or two business days.

 If you are unsure about the effectiveness of these reports, we are prepared to offer a money-back guarantee – if none of the uncited patents we find are relevant to the patent you are trying to invalidate, we will not charge you for the Automated Patent Search. 

Also a PDF version of the report that contains images and abstracts of each patent found is available upon request – please contact us for details or download a  sample of this report  (for an unrelated patent) if you are interested.

 

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