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Patents Technology

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 SkullOne (150150) on Friday January 13, 2006 @07:39AM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, 2006 @07:55AM (#14462527)
    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 mentions that in its predecessor, Regenerative Braking, the electrical current developed by one train's braking was applied toward another train's accelleration.

    Sounds like prior art to me, but I didn't RTFA to see how specific the patent was.
  • by scsirob (246572) on Friday January 13, 2006 @08:03AM (#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.
  • Re:good patent? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Alarash (746254) on Friday January 13, 2006 @08:04AM (#14462564)
    Patents that prevent companies to contribute to save the planet should be revoked, or moved to the public domain, or whatever the procedure is. Nobody should be able to force you to stop making efforts to pollute less.
  • Re:Limited problem (Score:3, Interesting)

    by peragrin (659227) on Friday January 13, 2006 @08:11AM (#14462591)
    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.

  • Due Diligence (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hoophead (945630) on Friday January 13, 2006 @08:14AM (#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".
  • Re:Limited problem (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, 2006 @08:18AM (#14462618)
    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 unrelated detail, and it's all good. Frankly I don't see how this concept would be pantentable even if it were the first instance of the idea. To an electric vehicle engineer, this has got to count as obvious. Where the hell else are you going to look for power to recharge your battery?
  • by Dr. Crash (237179) on Friday January 13, 2006 @08:33AM (#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? :)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, 2006 @08:34AM (#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.
  • Seems semi valid (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Fr05t (69968) on Friday January 13, 2006 @08:47AM (#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.
  • by bojanb (162938) on Friday January 13, 2006 @08:51AM (#14462789)
    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?
  • Re:Limited problem (Score:3, Interesting)

    by thebdj (768618) on Friday January 13, 2006 @09:02AM (#14462867) Journal
    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 reasons for a five-year delay in a lawsuit.

    They would need to first show some degree of infringement. This would require them to examine the specifications of the Toyota Prius. The next step would be to contact Toyota and offer then licensing. You do not jump straight to court. Afterall, why rush into a court case when the company might be reasonable and notice the infringement is there? Believe it or not, this does happen on occassion. After giving reasonable time for a response, a few months to a year probably, you would then begin collecting your evidence and filing your briefs.

    So I would say 5 yrs for this entire process is not completely ridiculous.
  • Re:/tin hat (Score:5, Interesting)

    by the_womble (580291) on Friday January 13, 2006 @09:16AM (#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:2, Interesting)

    by SgtChaireBourne (457691) on Friday January 13, 2006 @09:51AM (#14463247) Homepage
    I think the patent expiring is why you're hearing more about it because there isn't anyone to "stifle" the truth anymore.
    He's half right. The truth is called "bashing" these days if it's unpleasant for some people or contrary to their wishes. Business these days being based mostly on wishful thinking these days, that's a big deal for their bottom line.

    More seriously, the problems with aspartame have been known for a long time. It's rather toxic stuff in the long term and for people with fast growing nervous systems (ie. kids). I don't suppose the new stuff is any healthier, it's just got more years before the patent expires so it's "worth" defending -- if viewed from the limited scope of the companies. As public health issue, it's probably still a problem.

  • by jsimon12 (207119) <tzzhc4NO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Friday January 13, 2006 @10:45AM (#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.
  • Re:good patent? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, 2006 @11:32AM (#14464239)
    If you read their SEC filings, the line item that exceeds R&D is Marketing and Administration.

    To my knowledge, no pharmaceutical company has every provided a further breakdown of the latter line item.
    Do it's disingenuous at best to say they spend more on Marketing than on R&D.
  • Re:Easy Solution. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by waferhead (557795) <waferhead@@@yahoo...com> on Friday January 13, 2006 @11:32AM (#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.
  • by Gordonjcp (186804) on Friday January 13, 2006 @11:52AM (#14464438) Homepage
    ... diesel cars don't really sell well in the US, because American car manufacturers shot themselves in the foot during the 70s with hastily-converted petrol engine designs. The resulting engines were heavy, inefficient, noisy and dirty. Not only that, but the diesel you get in the US is actually too dirty to run European engines on without some modifications.


    The Prius is pretty much unheard-of in the UK and EU. There are a few hybrids about, but I've seen *one* Honda Insight in the past 12 months. No-one wants the expense and complexity of hybrids, when diesels are so good.

  • by netsyd (892121) on Friday January 13, 2006 @12:01PM (#14464518)
    In a case such as this I would this that there should be some clause within Emainent Domain that would allow the government to null and void the patent. If ever there was a good case of something being used for the greater good, this is it.

  • Prior art? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by skintigh2 (456496) on Friday January 13, 2006 @12:17PM (#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
  • Re:Easy Solution. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kfg (145172) on Friday January 13, 2006 @04:50PM (#14467348)
    All three are exactly the same aerodynamically as the non-hybrid vehicle, all three weigh considerably more (I think it's around 300 lbs for the Escape) than the non-hybrids, yet all 3 get better fuel mileage

    What are the comparative performance figures?

    produce significantly less tailpipe emissions

    As I have alluded to elsewhere I am not particularly interested in tailpipe emmissions. Those are smoke and mirrors when promoted as reduction of pollution.

    As many folks have mentioned, hybrids get much of the economy gains by using engines tuned for fuel economy

    Yes, I have mentioned that myself. That is one of the primary points of a hybrid. The other being to reduce the drivetrain to the absolute minimum.

    Granted, you could make the engine and CVT changes to a non-hyrbid and probably get as good or possibly even better fuel economy. . .

    Exactly!

    . . .but your aggregate tail pipe emissions would likely be higher

    I am not particularly interested in tailpipe emmissions. I am interested in reducing pollution.

    . . .your driving experience would probably be worse.

    Nonesense.

    And please note that the post to which you are responding was only intended to address the issue of regenerative breaking. I have written about other issues elsewhere over the years, which I have done because I like hybrids.

    KFG

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