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Toyota Prius Under Fire For Patent Infringement 504

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the not-so-fast dept.
tekiegreg writes "According to Auto Service World, Toyota (and possibly other hybrid companies) are guilty of violating a patent with their Prius hybrid Systems. The patent in particular looks like it covers most of how the drive-train and even the braking system of a Toyota Prius functions. The implications of which are big if there is no deal or settlement made (such as ceasing of hybrid vehicles in the United States)."
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Toyota Prius Under Fire For Patent Infringement

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  • by yobjob (942868) on Friday January 13, 2006 @08:38AM (#14462462)
    Remove the braking system. No more patent violation!
    • Yeah, the yuppies and single women who drive them wouldn't notice the difference anyway.
    • *waves placard*

      Implement Flintstones braking tech now!
    • Re:Easy Solution. (Score:3, Informative)

      by Transcendent (204992)
      Unfortunately the breaking system is a major part of the efficiency boost. Whenever you break, power is generated and stored into the batteries. Accelerating obviously uses up this power again.

      Without the breaking system advantage, your hybrid car won't get any significant fuel efficiency boost.
      • by PitaBred (632671) <slashdot.pitabred@dyndns@org> on Friday January 13, 2006 @11:44AM (#14463754) Homepage
        BRAKING! Jeebus. Use a dictionary. Or read the article. Or the parent post.
      • Re:Easy Solution. (Score:3, Informative)

        by kfg (145172)
        If I may take the liberty of quoting from an electric car builder with 30 years of experience and founder of the Electric Car Club:

        . . ."while braking the car, you can slow it down by converting the forward motion of the car into electricity that can be redirected to the batteries. This is known as regenerative braking. From my perspective, the added weight and complexity of the regenerative braking system, plus the low absorption efficiency rate of conventional batteries, ultimately provides for little if
      • Re:Easy Solution. (Score:4, Interesting)

        by waferhead (557795) <waferhead@NoSPam.yahoo.com> on Friday January 13, 2006 @12:32PM (#14464243)
        Dr. Ferdinand Porsche designed and BUILT an AWD electric car in ~1908 (or earlier?) with regenerative braking.

        I kinda suspect a bit of prior art somewhere.
  • /tin hat (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dr. Eggman (932300) on Friday January 13, 2006 @08:39AM (#14462467)
    It's the oil companies in disguise!
    • Re:/tin hat (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, 2006 @08:57AM (#14462532)
      I don't know why you got modded funny. It should be a well know fact (especially to /.ers) that OPEC buys up every alternative energy/locomotion patent it can get its hands on, and then calls it "Research".

      I'm gonna go research a Mountain Dew...
      • It should be a well know fact (especially to /.ers) that OPEC buys up every alternative energy/locomotion patent it can get its hands on, and then calls it "Research".

        If that were true, wouldn't these technologies come to market once the patents expire?

        • wouldn't these technologies come to market once the patents expire?

          LOL, silly rabiit! Patents, copyrights, and trademarks never expire anymore.

          -Eric

          • Patents do, and they're what's relevant to this discussion. Next?
            • Re:/tin hat (Score:3, Insightful)

              by IAmTheDave (746256)
              Patents do, and they're what's relevant to this discussion. Next?

              Yeah, after 20 years, and then maybe a continuation. 2 years is enough to completely stifle innovation. 20? PCs were barely around 20 years ago and look at the world today. Imagine someone buying and hording the patent to a Personal Computer (which could happen in today's world.) Is that 20 years enough to kill innovation? Um, yeah.

            • Re:/tin hat (Score:3, Insightful)

              by elrous0 (869638)
              Patents do

              No, when you get close to the 20 year mark, you just patent some other aspect of your invention--extending the patent another 20 years. Repeat as needed.

              -Eric

          • Actually, patents still do.

            Notice all the Nutrasweet bashing going on among health gurus over the last couple of years. It was the perfect sweetener, now it causes everything from headaches to severe thunderstorms.

            Why? Because the patent ran out on aspertame. They want you to buy Splenda(TM) sucralose now, and nobody has much of a profit motive to counter the anti-aspertame FUD, because Equal no longer holds an exclusive patent on it.
        • Re:/tin hat (Score:5, Interesting)

          by the_womble (580291) on Friday January 13, 2006 @10:16AM (#14462981) Homepage Journal
          There is a tactic to deal with this: just before the patent expires, patent necessary but previously unpatented aspects of the invention. You can also patent all the obvious variations of it. The end result is most actual implementations breach a patent, even though the original patent has expired.

          Pharmaceutical companies do this sort of thing all the time.
          • Re:/tin hat (Score:4, Informative)

            by 2short (466733) on Friday January 13, 2006 @12:40PM (#14464333)
            That doesn't work. Once an invention is out there (on sale or otherwise "published"), you have a limited time (a year IIRC) to file for a patent.

            The standard Pharmaceutical company trick is shortly before the patent expires, they introduce a new version with a trivial (but newly patented) "improvement". Aggressive marketing tries to get all their current customers switched to the new drug. When the patent expires, other companies can make generic versions of the original drug, and these may for all practical purposes be just as good at treating whatever it is, but pharmacists can't make the substitution for the new one without a new prescription.

            The other trick is to find new uses for current drugs, and patent those new uses, which gets weird in that eventually generic companies can make the exact same drug, but not market it for the new purpose.

            Both of these seem to me like side effects of applying patent law, which works reasonably well for things like mechanical engineering, to other realms.
      • Re:/tin hat (Score:3, Informative)

        by Dun Malg (230075)
        I don't know why you got modded funny. It should be a well know fact (especially to /.ers) that OPEC buys up every alternative energy/locomotion patent it can get its hands on, and then calls it "Research".

        And I don't know what nut(s) modded you "insightful". The only "evidence" supporting such a crazy claim is a bunch of urban legends. Name one technology that OPEC "bought up" and kept secret. Ah, that's right. It's being kept secret! Complete absence of evidence is the sureset sign the conspiracy is wor

    • Don't laugh! (Score:5, Informative)

      by aquarian (134728) on Friday January 13, 2006 @09:24AM (#14462641)
      Cobasys, a Texaco subsidiary, holds a patent for NiMH batteries. One of the reasons for the hybrid itself is that it carefully skirts this patent by having the internal combustion engine as the prime mover. A battery-only or battery-mostly vehicle might be subject to prohibitive license fees. This is why pluggable hybrids have not been commercially produced either.

      Oil company conspiracy? You decide...
      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, 2006 @09:34AM (#14462693)
        There's a group of companies developing lithium batteries that have created a patent pool. If your company develops technology for lithium batteries, you pay a fee to get into this group and then you can use for free any lithium patent from any company in the group. Of course, they get to use your patents as well, but with so many people looking out for submarine patents and the fact that your competitors signed a technology sharing agreement, the chance of a lawsuit is minimal.
      • Re:Don't laugh! (Score:3, Informative)

        by bracher (33965)
        Cobasys [cobasys.com] is a joint venture [ovonic.com] between Chevron (not Texaco) and ECD Ovonics [ovonic.com].

        I first heard about ECD in this transcript [pbs.org] of a Scientific American Frontiers episode. Two segments on them, one talks about storing hydrogen as a solid (in alloy hydrides) and the second talks about their solar panel tech. Sort of ironic to see them pop up in this thread...

  • Diagram (Score:5, Informative)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <.moc.liamg. .ta. .nhojovadle.> on Friday January 13, 2006 @08:39AM (#14462469) Journal
    So if you want a visual of what they're actually talking about, look here [blogspot.com] because that damned patent site refers to images that are nowhere to be found. I think that linked diagram refers to the numbers that the patent information initially state about the design of it.
    • Re:Diagram (Score:3, Informative)

      by mzwaterski (802371)
      As the anonymous coward stated, there is a big red button for images. However, chances are your problem is that you need a good TIFF viewer that works with the USPTO setup. See Innomage Internetiff. They have a free version. Otherwise visit any one of the many sites that provide free PDFs of patents.
  • by SkullOne (150150) on Friday January 13, 2006 @08:39AM (#14462471) Homepage
    Theyre patent is pretty complete, but only filed in 1990.
    Unfortunately, I think reclaiming breaking energy with an electric motor was thought of, and used much earlier then that.
    • by sphealey (2855) on Friday January 13, 2006 @08:47AM (#14462502)
      > Unfortunately, I think reclaiming breaking
      > energy with an electric motor was thought of,
      > and used much earlier then that.

      Around 1870 in fact.

      sPh
      • by Gordonjcp (186804) on Friday January 13, 2006 @08:55AM (#14462524) Homepage
        "Diesel Traction - A Manual for Enginemen", Copyright 1962 by the British Transport Commission, describes using regenerative braking where you use the traction motors in diesel-electric power cars as generators, feeding the current into banks of resistors bolted to the chassis. Somewhere around page 160-odd, about the bit where it's talking about wheel slip detection circuits and stuff.


        I know I saw Telma [telmausa.com] retarders on buses, long before 1990. They work on the same principle.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Yeah...isn't that the whole concept behind the Dynamic Braking Systems in most, if not all, modern deisel locomotives?
      A quick search on Google resulted in the following article from Trains magazine:
      http://www.trains.com/Content/Dynamic/Articles/000 /000/003/079uwrak.asp [trains.com]

      They bascially state that modern Dynamic Braking, where the locomotive's traction motors are set as a generator, slows the train. The resulting electrical current is simply disposed of as heat via banks of resistors.
      However, the article ment
    • by Phreakiture (547094) on Friday January 13, 2006 @09:27AM (#14462652) Homepage

      [Their] patent is pretty complete, but only filed in 1990.

      Unfortunately, I think reclaiming [braking] energy with an electric motor was thought of, and used much earlier [than] that.

      I seem to recall an article that was published in the late 1980s in Popular Science profiling a prototype hybrid car that was called the Uniq. It had regenerative braking.

      Rail locomotives have had "Dynamic braking" for decades, in which energy is reclaimed from the wheels, but it is subsequently burned off in a huge resistor, but it is at least half of the formula.

      So that takes regenerative braking itself off the table as far as prior art. That leaves the combiner gearbox.

      The Uniq used no combiner gearbox, and neither do Honda's hybrids. Toyota has done a better job at marketing their hybrid drive, but Hondas are actually getting better MPG without the combiner gearbox (though a pure electric mode is not possible).

      The bottom line is: There is some prior art; it is probably not enough to help Toyota with their immediate problem, but not all hybrids are affected.

    • I've read the patent and from what little I know of Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive from Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] it does seem related.

      Regenerative braking is a red herring. What's special about Toyota's HSD on Prius is the drivetrain, and that's exactly what they're talking about in the patent.

      The caveat - the patent was filed in 1991, don't patents expire after 14 years?
  • by No Such Agency (136681) <abmackay@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Friday January 13, 2006 @08:39AM (#14462474)
    Man, people who deliberately use "submarine patents" to try and make money off a popular technology really bug me. As do "technology companies" whose sole business model is to own patents. They wait and see, and if the tech becomes successful, they pounce. If it flops they stay away and let the infringer take the loss.

    I respect the rights of patent owners, and I'm not sure how you could legally sanction this berhaviour without harming patent holders' legitimate rights, but the practice is just plain sleazy.

    Now it may be that they have had suit against Toyota ever since the hybrid came on the market, and this is just a recent expansion of that suit, in which case they are not being weasels...
    • by z0idberg (888892) on Friday January 13, 2006 @08:56AM (#14462531)
      If you take a look at the patent holding companies website (Solomon Technologies inc. ) it looks like they developed the technology and have been implementing it (in sailing vessels) for some time.

      From their FAQ:

      What is the Electric Wheel(TM)?
      The Electric Wheel(TM) is a new technology motor (first patented in 1991) that significantly improves and exceeds the net horsepower output of existing electric and fossil fuel motors. Solomon Technologies currently provides three series of motor systems built on this technology; the ST37, the ST58 and the ST74. They have been designed for use in marine environments. The ST58 combines variable torque converters, brushless motors with Neodymium Iron Boron (NeFe B) magnets, and a powerful regenerative feedback function that converts the motor(s) into a generator of electricity to recharge the batteries while under sail, and provide electrical power to other appliances on the boat.

      So looks like they are legit (or are a very elaborate front :-) )
      • by dotwaffle (610149) <slashdot AT walster DOT org> on Friday January 13, 2006 @09:35AM (#14462699) Homepage
        As a UK citizen, I'm unfamiliar with US law - how long does a US patent last? I assumed it was 5 years, considering this patent was filed in 1991 (if I read correctly) it must be at least 15 years monopoly - something that seams completely unfair to the progression of business...

        Maybe the US (and indeed most countries) need to re-evaluate the law pertaining to patent law, what it was created for, and what it should cover today. Also, copyright law needs looking at - I'm pretty disgusted with the UK version as it stands, I'm sure the US has an equally if not worse one. 25 years or death plus 5 years sounds fair. After then, it doesn't mean no-one owns it, it means everyone owns it, surely?
        • by thebdj (768618)
          20 years from the filing date of the application. I do not think it is as low as 5 anywhere in the world. This is of course only for Utility Patents. I think Design Patents are 14 years and I have no clue about Plant Patents.
          • Patent Length (Score:3, Informative)

            by Ironsides (739422)
            http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/ac/ido/oeip/taf/ p atdesc.htm [uspto.gov]

            Although, the length of utility and plant patent protection (patent term) was previously seventeen years from the date of patent grant, utility and plant patents filed after June 8, 1995 now have a patent term of up to twenty years from the date of filing of the earliest related patent application. Utility and plant patents which were applied for prior to June 8, 1995, and which were or will be in force after June 8, 1995, now have a patent ter
        • As a UK citizen, I'm unfamiliar with US law - how long does a US patent last? I assumed it was 5 years, considering this patent was filed in 1991 (if I read correctly) it must be at least 15 years monopoly - something that seams completely unfair to the progression of business...

          Take a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Term_of_patent_in_the _United_States [wikipedia.org]. In general, it's 20 years (17 for patents before 1995, as this one was)

          The main reason for making it so long is that people and companies typical

    • by tdemark (512406) on Friday January 13, 2006 @08:59AM (#14462543) Homepage
      I respect the rights of patent owners, and I'm not sure how you could legally sanction this berhaviour without harming patent holders' legitimate rights, but the practice is just plain sleazy.

      If a product that uses your patent without an agreement in place is on the market for X months and you, the patent holder, do not challenge such use, a license is automatically granted for that product.

      If you have reason to believe a product is using your patent, you can file a challenge with the patent office stating so. The company offering the product has to respond saying that they are or are not violating your patent. If they say they are not, the previous "X month" window gets extended to the full term of the patent for that product. If they aren't using your patent, this has no effect. If they are using your patent, and tell the patent office they aren't, you now have the full term of the patent to prove them wrong.

      You can only exercise this challenge Y times over the life of the patent. Y will not include any challenge that is upheld, either initially or after the fact.
      • I think this is an interesting idea, but I feel like it's got a few flaws:

        If a product that uses your patent without an agreement in place is on the market for X months and you, the patent holder, do not challenge such use, a license is automatically granted for that product.

        So I could get myself a license by producing a product, and making sure it's low enough on the radar that it never blips on the patent holder's screen (for example, sell it to a few "customers" for whom I do the same sort of favor in re
      • If you took your entire post, replaced the word "patent" with "copyright" then you'd be correct. Patents can be selectively enforced at any time during its lifetime. See what happened with GIF [wikipedia.org] as an example.
    • by scsirob (246572) on Friday January 13, 2006 @09:03AM (#14462559)
      Simple solution.. Only the original inventor gets to benefit from having invented something. If the inventor (either private or company) decides to sell it's assets, then any patents become void and the knowledge public domain.
      • Simple solution.. Only the original inventor gets to benefit from having invented something. If the inventor (either private or company) decides to sell it's assets, then any patents become void and the knowledge public domain. That's a really crappy "solution," as you've just limited patents even more to the large corporations. There's nothing wrong with a little guy inventing something, patenting it, and licensing it for commercialization. Otherwise, you're saying that to invent anything you have to hav
        • That's a really crappy "solution," as you've just limited patents even more to the large corporations. There's nothing wrong with a little guy inventing something, patenting it, and licensing it for commercialization. Otherwise, you're saying that to invent anything you have to have the necessary capital to build a factory, and that sucks.

          I don't think that's what he meant. I took his suggestion to mean that only the original patent filer could hold the patent. That person or organisation could then lic

      • Who would buy the company if the patents that made it supposedly successful were not applicable upon purchase?

        Mind you, I *am* against the current patent system, I just don't think your suggestion would fly ;)

        -naeem

  • by cdrudge (68377) * on Friday January 13, 2006 @08:40AM (#14462479) Homepage
    "According to Auto Service World, Toyota (and possibly other hybrid companies)
    The article mentions no other hybrid companies. The only companies mentioned are either Solomon Technologies, the patent holder, and various different divisions of Toyota. The "and possibly other hybrid companies" is just pure speculation.

    are guilty of violating a patent with their Prius hybrid Systems.
    The article just says that Solomon is taking their complaint to the ITC to block Toyota from importing more vehicles. ITC can't rule guilt or fine Toyota. If Toyota manufactured the vehicles here, it likely would circumvent anything the ITC could do. There has been no admission of guilt by Toyota so the only other place guilt can be determined is in a court of law. Until the case currently in US District Court is ruled on, there is no guilt. Only accusations.

    The implications of which are big if there is no deal or settlement made (such as ceasing of hybrid vehicles in the United States)."
    No. In the case of the article it just would mean Toyota couldn't import hybrid vehicles of this design (presuming they don't license the patent and settle the District Court case). They would either have to make them state-side or find a different design. Beleive it or not, there is more then one way to design a hybrid vehicle. This ruling wouldn't have an immediate effect on other manufacturers of hybrid vehicles although it might set a precident for future litigation.
    • The "and possibly other hybrid companies" is just pure speculation.

      Indeed, hence the correct usage of the word "probably".

  • by Vo0k (760020) on Friday January 13, 2006 @08:50AM (#14462510) Journal
    Google Under Fire For Patent Infringement - bad news.
    Microsoft Under Fire For Patent Infringement - good news.
    Sun Under Fire For Patent Infringement - depends on wind direction and world series basketball results.
    Do we love or hate Toyota Prius?
    • People who make an irrelevant attempt to bash Microsoft because they think they will get a "Funny" mod on /. given a boot to the head....Priceless.
    • Actually, despite the obvious joke in your comment, I honestly can't decide.

      On one hand, we need more alternatives to oil, and anything that hurts that hurts us all in the long run.

      On the other hand, if a high profile patent case is brought against hybrid cars, then it'll possibly bring the absurdity of current patent situations into the public light, and I can already hear screaming on the senate floor about the evils of patents.

      On the third hand, patents *do* have their uses (recovering research costs and
  • Limited problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by overshoot (39700) on Friday January 13, 2006 @08:56AM (#14462529)
    It also expires in three years.

    This actually looks like a reasonable patent -- the inventor did come up with a reasonably novel approach to getting decent efficiency out of electric motors under varying load conditions, and published it via the patent system long ago.

    The auto companies pay plenty in patent royalties every year, and if they'd negotiated terms before using this (which may well be tracable to their designs) then I doubt they'd have had to pay much. They may not have to pay all that much now, hard to say.

    • Re:Limited problem (Score:3, Interesting)

      by peragrin (659227)
      Yea three years till the patent expires but the Prius has been available for sale for the past 5. Where was this guy 5 years ago?

      This is just submarine patenting. Toyota put out commercials describing the basics of the car. If that's not enough to get you to take a closer look for possible infringment, then you should lose any chance of getting money.

      • Re:Limited problem (Score:3, Interesting)

        by thebdj (768618)
        You are misusing the term submarine patent. It was not hidden away from human eyes. The patent was published on issuance 14 years ago. In order to be, "submarine patenting" a patent must be unpublished and suddenly appear in a manner as to "surprise" the market.

        I would venture a guess that many companies go patent hunting before creating new products, and if Toyota were to perform such a practice they surely would have noticed this one in their search (you would think). There are several possible reas
    • Re:Limited problem (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Except that "coming up with a novel approach" isn't supposed to be patentable. *Invention* is the only thing supposed to be patented. I can sit on my arse all day and think up "novel approaches". That fact that they are infeasible now and that I'm not doing anything to make them more feasible is irrelevant to our current patent system. The fact that they aren't novel and have been used for hundreds of years is also, apparently, irrelevant. All I have to do is change one insignificant thing, or add one unrel
  • by metarox (883747) on Friday January 13, 2006 @08:58AM (#14462541) Homepage
    From the patent title :
    Dual-input infinite-speed integral motor and transmission device
    Now that's cool!
    • How do get a patent for an "infinite-speed" device? Sounds like some kind of "free energy" scam to me, probably due to "zero-point" energy and having to with "wormholes" and "warps" and crystals and all that jazz. ;-)
  • I have to wonder why Toyota would be so negligent in its actions, unless they knew they were not infringing on anything?

    The Solomon company uses their technology primarily for boats and not cars, maybe that is why Toyota thought their system was different enough that it didn't infringe on their patents.
  • by The OPTiCIAN (8190) on Friday January 13, 2006 @09:06AM (#14462569)
    Thank heavens we have those patents to encourage innovation. The invention would never have happened otherwise.
  • All Toyota has to do is set 1% of its lawyers to work to overturn the patent. The patent office will let you patent most anything-- they do very little search for no-nos like prior art, prior disclosure, or the many other details that can invalidate a patent.

    Electric braking and planetary transmissions have bveen around for about a century-- there's probably 1,000 prior patents and prior art in that genre.

    With just a preliminary survey like that, Toyota can have a mighty strong negotiating position wit

    • Yeah, two of the base technologies have been around for ages, but this particular combination of the two is a novel idea. The patent in question is a lot narrower than the Slashdot summary makes it seem. It basically almost exactly describes Toyota's HSD system, which you must admit, IS a novel and original method for creating a hybrid vehicle. The patent will not be enforceable against most other hybrid manufacturers, as they use different hybrid systems.

      In this situation, unlike some of the past abuser
  • Due Diligence (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hoophead (945630) on Friday January 13, 2006 @09:14AM (#14462601)
    My patent law is a little rusty, but doesn't the patent owner have to claim infringement within a reasonable amount of time? How long has the Prius been out - 2 or 3 years? ANd they are just filing a claim now? The upshot is that if I own a patent, I can't just wait for years while it is infringed, and then come in and claim my triple damages based on the other guy's work. I have to challenge within a reasonable amount of time, or else the infringer has "squatter's rights".
    • My patent law is a little rusty, but doesn't the patent owner have to claim infringement within a reasonable amount of time?

      I don't think so. Not that I know anything about patent law, but the whole Eolas browser plugin patent would have been voided years ago if this where true. I do think some kind of 'defend it or lose it' rule (a exists with trademarks) whould be a good idea for patents...
  • by Dr. Crash (237179) on Friday January 13, 2006 @09:33AM (#14462690)
    Lesson 1: READ THE CLAIMS.

    Note that every claim is either a "base claim", that is, that starts a new description, or is a
    "subsidiary claim" that depends or extends another claim.

    Lesson 2: READ THE BASE CLAIMS TWICE.

    The base claims are the patent's "weak spots" - if you can just dodge every base claim, then
    the patent doesn't apply to you.

    Notice that in this patent every base claim says "electrical" on both power inputs. That's
    a major flaw; this patent has no claims that cover the case of only one electrical power
    input and one of a totally other kind of power.

    Lesson 3: THERE IS NO INFRINGEMENT IF NONE OF THE CLAIMS APPLY.

    The Prius driveline doesn't use an electrical motor on BOTH inputs, only on one. Hence it does
    not infringe.

    Next? :)
  • Seems semi valid (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Fr05t (69968) on Friday January 13, 2006 @09:47AM (#14462761)
    Really, the company holding this patent does actually use it. From what I gathered it has a lot to do with the braking system being used to charge the battery.

    I'm guessing / hoping Toyota and this company will both be reasonable and find a fair way to settle this. Where this isn't a 'completely frivolous' case, where the patent holder is a company setup to make money off it's patents (which it doesn't use), I think they'll at least be reasonable.
  • A quick scan of the patent database shows about 11,500 patents with "planetary transmission" in them. About 22,000 with "electric braking".

    Even if 99% of those are false hits, that still leaves about 300+ patents that just might have prior art or patent rights that this alleged patent infringes on.

    Doesnt look too good for these noobies.

    • The trick is can you combine any of those to create prior art? Sure I could do a search for two terms that are typically disjoint and get thousands of references, but they key is making it prior art. You cannot just combine Reference A with Reference B without some sort of teaching. They key is, it has to be reasonable to combine two items. Just because the two exists doesn't mean they would be obvious to combine.
  • Hmm... Given the push for energy independence, why doesn't the U.S. government simply claim eminent domain, pay out for the whopping three or four remainin years left on the patent at a 'fair market rate' and make the information pure public domain.
  • by MaWeiTao (908546) on Friday January 13, 2006 @11:00AM (#14463318)
    I'm all for innovation, enhanced fuel efficiency, alternative fuels and all that. However, I have a fundamental problem with hybrids. Hybrids are an overly complex method for squeezing out a little extra mileage.

    There are two reasons why they've been attractive. The first is that they're fashionable, especially with the celebrities driving around in them. But even then, the Prius has been more successful than any other hybrid not because it's superior, but simply because the styling is different from most cars. It looks futuristic, it looks like a hybrid. the car is essentially a fashion statement.

    The second, less perceptable reason for your average consumer, is that hybrids don't feel like they're equipped with a small gasoline engine. The fuel efficiency all comes from the fact that the engine is small, not that there's some great leap in technology in the car. The distinction is that the electric motor provides additional power preventing the car from feeling too sluggish. In some cases the electric motor can motivate the car on it's own, but that only applies to the Prius and Ford hybrids, the Civic still needs the engine to get it going. It's only under a limited set of circumstances that the engine can fully take over anyway.

    Then there's the premium a hybrid commands over a normal car, and the fact that the batteries themselves are extremely expensive, and are rated for, at most, 100,000 miles only under ideal circumstances. Then there's the fact that batteries can be highly polluting, both during manufacturing and disposal.

    If you wan't real fuel efficiency buy a car with a 1 liter engine like are available in Europe. The car is going to be extremely sluggish, but it will get you from point A to point B. You can drive it like a normal car and still expect the kind of mileage hybrids struggle to match. If you want to go one up on that, get a small-displacement diesel which get even better mileage. Although, those cars tend to pollute considerably.

    As an interim step I think hybrids are perfectly fine. My concern is that hybrids are going to turn into cash cows for automakers and they're going to get fixated on them neglecting development of far superior technologies.

    What I predict is that the American automakers will go nuts over hybrids like they did over SUVs. By the time they've saturated the market with them and have to offer massive discounts to get them off their lots the foreign automakers will already be introducing new technologies. Man, I'd like to know what kind of idiots are running those companies.
  • by jsimon12 (207119) <tzzhc4.yahoo@com> on Friday January 13, 2006 @11:45AM (#14463765) Homepage
    Hybrids are overly complex, require expensive battery replacement. And are only marginally better then their regular counterparts in cost over their lifetime.

    We are far better off investing in both straight electric and high efficiency diesel technology. Both are easier and cheaper to manufacture and allow for a wider range of fuel sources.
  • Don't panic (Score:4, Informative)

    by originalhack (142366) on Friday January 13, 2006 @12:02PM (#14463933)
    I had a professor in 1985 at the Univerity of Illinois who had built and published papers on an electric vehicle with regenerative braking. There is a nice report somewhere from the fire department on that one (NiCd-fire). At that point, the concept of gas-turbine/battery hybrids were already well under discussion.

    There have certainly been some interesting innovations that make modern hybrids possible since then, primarily the interesting motor/generator/transmission gadgets, but the fundamentals that are critical to all hybrids go back way further.

  • Prior art? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by skintigh2 (456496) on Friday January 13, 2006 @01:17PM (#14464665)
    I had an R/C car in the 80's that had regenerative breaking. In fact, just about ALL electronic speed controllers had regenerative breaking back then - since the little cars don't have break pads they either regenerate or short out the motor
  • by dtjohnson (102237) on Friday January 13, 2006 @01:19PM (#14464691)
    The Figure 1A in the patent looks more like a Chrysler K car than a Prius. Also, the transmission in Figure 2 looks more like the transmission on a McCormick Farmall tractor with the option power take off. Maybe the inventor was influenced by previous art or one of those Iacocca TV commercials from the '80s.
  • by whitroth (9367) <whitroth@@@5-cent...us> on Friday January 13, 2006 @01:50PM (#14465012) Homepage
    I beg your pardon, but I have seen vehicles with regenerative braking my entire *life*... and I'm well into my fifties.

    Or are 100% of all non-steam locomotives too "old tech" for the folks here?

    Please note, btw, that ALL "diesel locomotives" are actually 'hybrids", using a diesel engine to generate electricity to run electric motors.

    I'd say that prior art takes regenerative braking out of the so-called infringement.

              mark "yes, I am into trains...."

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