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Patent Claim Could Block Import of Toyota's Hybrid Cars 451

JynxMe writes "Paice is a tiny Florida company that has patented a way to apply force to a car's wheels from an electric motor or internal combustion engine. Paice thinks that Toyota is infringing on its technology, and is going after the automaker in court. The legal spat became much more serious for Toyota this week, when the US International Trade Commission decided to investigate the matter. In the worst-case scenario for Toyota, the commission could ban the hybrid Camry, third-generation Prius, Lexus HS250h sedan and Lexus RX450h SUV."
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Patent Claim Could Block Import of Toyota's Hybrid Cars

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  • Re:Filing date (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sharkb8 ( 723587 ) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @05:19PM (#29686131)
    The chain of priority goes back to 1999.
  • Re:Yes, but.... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dvorakkeyboardrules ( 1652653 ) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @05:21PM (#29686155)
    Typically Toyota uses the US market to drive design improvements that they want to make and can't pay for at home via high profit margin specialty items. This is why they created the EV RAV4 way back in 1994 and the first round of PRIUS sedans when California backed off the polution requirements. Those early models were a way to pay the designers and engineers to improve the technology and get smarter without loosing buckets of money. Currently they are packing high demand US cars with extras like navigation (and solar panels starting next year) to increase the volume of the technology they want to use elsewhere on other things to drive down costs. Great smart marketing and management by them when they sucker us into paying high prices for these extras but we want the cars so we pay up and they make a lot of extra profit.......

    Honda has been doing the same thing with engine technology in other products like race cars, snow blowers, ATVs and motor cycles for years. The technology and design features discovered and the factories built for one product pays for the design improvements in other places like great small cars......

    C'est la vie.....
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 08, 2009 @05:28PM (#29686233)

    1. A hybrid vehicle, comprising: at least two pairs of wheels, each pair of wheels operable to receive power to propel said hybrid vehicle; [snip] a third AC electric motor; an engine coupled to said third electric motor, operable to provide power to at least one of said two pairs of wheels to propel the hybrid vehicle, and/or to said third electric motor to drive the third electric motor to generate electric power; [etc].

    I don't see how this in any way is infringed by Toyota. Where is the third electric motor on a Toyota hybrid? How is power provided to two separate pairs of wheels?

  • by Thagg ( 9904 ) <> on Thursday October 08, 2009 @05:28PM (#29686237) Journal

    They patented the transmission, exactly. The use of a planetary gearbox to sum the output of the gasoline and electric motors, or to have the gasoline motor drive the generator. I share the antipathy for software patents with most of the Slashdot crowd, but this is a classic hardware patent. Hardware patents have a long and important history, and are almost certainly a good thing.

    Curiously, GM's Volt doesn't violate this patent, as it is a so-called "series hybrid", in that the gas motor only drives the generator, and the wheels are only driven by the electric motor. The Ford Fusion and Escape hybrids, and the Nissan Altima hybrid use exactly the same system that Toyota does, licensed from Toyota.

    Toyota has made the system useful (in a way that the original patent isn't) by adding a second electric motor which assists in driving the wheels directly. This enables a "low gear", by having the gas motor run fast, driving the first motor/generator backwards to generate power, which drives the second electric motor. That is the decisive conceptual leap in the Synergy drive, and Toyota has of course patented that.


  • by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <> on Thursday October 08, 2009 @05:30PM (#29686245) Journal
    This looks like stuff they had in Scientific American back in 1972. Even the microcontroller was anticipated. The only addition (and it's mostly a bullshit one) is "a two-speed transmission may further be provided, to further broaden the vehicle's load range". CVT transmissions weren't envisioned then.

    Sure enough, if you look at the list of cited patents, they go back to the early 70s. This is not new, and should not have received a separate patent as an "invention". There's zero inventing involved.

    Sample bogus claims:
    11. The hybrid vehicle of claim 10, wherein said engine is preheated prior to starting.
    16. The method of claim 13, comprising the further step of preheating said engine prior to starting.
    20. The method of claim 19, wherein said engine is preheated prior to starting.

    This is broad enough to be claiming a patent on a f*cking block heater on any hybrid.

    Never mind all the "non-invention-ness" of:
    6. The hybrid vehicle of claim 1, wherein said engine comprises a turbocharger operable to increase the maximum torque output by said engine, and wherein said turbocharger is so operated when the power required of said engine exceeds a predetermined value for at least a predetermined period of time.
    15. The method of claim 13, wherein said engine comprises a turbocharger operable to increase the maximum torque output by said engine, and wherein said controller causes said turbocharger to be so operated when the power required of said engine exceeds a predetermined value for at least a predetermined period of time.
    23. The method of claim 22, further comprising: operating a turbocharger coupled to the engine of the hybrid vehicle to increase maximum torque output (MTO) produced by the engine when torque required of the engine exceeds a predetermined value for at least a predetermined period of time.

    - in other words the "invention" of using a turbo-charger to increase performance.

    Gee, why not add a supercharger at the same time? No turbo lag, etc.

    Your patent system is fucked up. Hopefully the Japs will do everyone a favour and do a a Pearl Harbour on it.

  • Re:That's bright! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jim_v2000 ( 818799 ) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @05:35PM (#29686305)
    A one sentence summary is vague. Their patent filing is not.
  • Re:That's bright! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dunbal ( 464142 ) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @05:40PM (#29686363)

    If they honestly think they have a claim, then it would be absurd not to go after it.

          Read as: It doesn't cost all that much to file a patent, let's threaten to sue and see if Toyota will settle. Even if we only make a couple hundred thousand, Toyota will be happy to have the FTC off their back, and we'll have paid our costs for incorporation, and filing this (bogus) patent.

  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <> on Thursday October 08, 2009 @05:49PM (#29686467)

    Interesting that a company located in Florida [] would choose to sue a Japanese company in the seemingly random [] location of Marshall, Texas [].

  • Re:Yes, but.... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @05:59PM (#29686577)

    So they ostensibly lose a little money and 'dump' cars in to the US. Not all of us are suckered into bloated options-- and US car makers are famous for them, too. That they were able to find a market is a good thing. US Prius owners get the benefit of higher resale value for not only mpg but overall quality aids resale and ownership costs, too. Sour grapes, dude.

    The remaining US automakers could learn a few lessons. Look at how well NUMMI cars continue to sell.

  • by aqui ( 472334 ) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @06:06PM (#29686645)

    Yes and the Toyota Prius has been around since err



    and it was sold worldwide since 2001 (I'm assuming that includes the US).

    If the US had technology companies run by engineers and technical people rather than lawyers and accountants perhaps they would chose
    "innovation" over "litigation" as a business strategy.

    The sad truth is that even if someone at GM or Ford had the same idea in 1997 or earlier the bean counters and lawyers would have axed a hybrid in favour of more profitable SUVs..

    If you don't believe me look at who's on the board at GM, do a search for engineer in this article: (
    funny... almost no engineers...

    VS at Daimler: (
    4 out of 5 on the management board have engineering backgrounds..


    Stealing US ideas... what ideas? The idea to sue everybody... maybe I should patent "patent troll law suits" and sue all the patent lawyers (after all it is a "business process" and a "unique" invention)...

  • Re:That's bright! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kartoffel ( 30238 ) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @06:10PM (#29686701)

    Making money is only a means to an end. Why don't the people who make up Paice engage in something more productive?

    On the other hand, maybe Toyota really is doing something unique and non-obvious with hybrid propulsion and Paice can prove prior art. It could be, but in this day and age of patent trolls, i am skeptical.

  • Re:That's bright! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by siddesu ( 698447 ) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @06:13PM (#29686739)

    The president is represented in this dispute by the US International Trade Commission, which goal is to protect US companies from (unfair, they say) foreign competition.

    Stopping import is very unlikely IMHO, but we'll see - with the huge investment of your tax money into electric sports cars I wouldn't be much surprised by anything.

  • Re:Filing date (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tsotha ( 720379 ) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @06:14PM (#29686747)

    The US has a first-to-invent standard instead of the first-to-file standard you see in some other countries. If you can show you invented something before the other guy did (which usually requires a fair amount of documentation), you can get a patent even after the invention is in general use. You can also invalidate existing patents for the same invention. Of course there are all sorts of legal caveats, but that's the gist of it. The fact that the patent application was filed in 2006 doesn't necessarily mean they can't win.

  • Re:That's bright! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Locutus ( 9039 ) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @06:37PM (#29686941)
    when I was researching the Prius and it's hybrid system in the late 90s and the year 2000, it was well known by the hybrid techies that a very old patent( expired ) used the design of the power split device( planetary gears ) used by Toyota. I don't think it brought in a 2nd motor and used it as both a motor and generator as Toyota did but the basic concepts were all there in the public domain.

    not to mention that the patent listed was filed in 2006. Toyota had their hybrid system running in cars in Japan as early as 1997. Those jurists much have been morons to have awarded that case against Toyota.

  • by GumphMaster ( 772693 ) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @06:38PM (#29686945)

    Given that the patent application was filed May 8, 2006 is seems that Toyota's hybrid easily predates (circa 1997) the patent.

    The patent claims start, "1. A hybrid vehicle, comprising: at least two pairs of wheels, each pair of wheels operable to receive power to propel said hybrid vehicle;..." No later claim seems to remove the requirement that power is deliverable to all pair of wheels. Does a Prius drive all four wheels?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 08, 2009 @06:42PM (#29686967)

    Example: Robertson screws. Henry Ford wanted them, ol' man Robertson couldn't get Ford to pay the price he wanted, and Ford couldn't buy them from anyone else. Ford went elsewhere, and thus Robertson never had the cash to expand into the US market, and the screws are only widely available in Canada. The patents were expired by the mid 60s, but by then nobody cared. So we suffer with the silly slot and antiquated Phillips screws.

    Entrenched shittyness due to greed.

  • Re:That's bright! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dunbal ( 464142 ) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @06:52PM (#29687055)

    What makes you assume that it will get fixed?

          Because I'm a fully qualified, board certified specialist who COULD practice medicine in the US, but refuses to because it's too much hassle. And what's worse is, I'm not the only one. There are many, many physicians who have opted out of medicine and into something less stressful (and potentially disastrous in financial terms). A country that encourages trained specialists to actually work in something less risky because of litigation or even worse, having insurance companies practice medicine by telling doctors what to do and what not to do, is a bit screwed up.

          But then again I forget, this is the US we are talking about. A country that owes the world close to 12 trillion dollars (not counting social security and health care), is printing money like mad, has double digit unemployment (17% if you look at U-6), whose own government admits unavoidable financial armaggeddon [], and yet has a stock market that rallies 40% with apparently no end in sight... Yeah, I guess anything could happen.

  • by Dahan ( 130247 ) <> on Thursday October 08, 2009 @06:59PM (#29687127)

    If Paice can get an injunction, though, it will hurt Toyota badly; they'll be forced to negotiate some kind of royalty deal or lose their hybrid sales.

    But the court already ordered Toyota to pay royalties "based on the wholesale prices equal to 0.48 percent for a second- generation Prius, 0.32 percent for each Highlander and 0.26 percent for each Lexus RX400h."

    No, it seems that Paice really wants to block Toyota hybrid sales... they tried to do that in their original patent suit (which they won), but the judge didn't agree that Toyota sales should be blocked; instead, he awarded Paice royalties. So now Paice is trying again in a different venue--the ITC.

  • Toyota is peaking. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by reporter ( 666905 ) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @07:13PM (#29687245) Homepage
    Fears that Toyota will own 100% of the American market were and are exaggerated. Toyota is now exhibiting the symptoms of a dominant company that has reached the limits of its growth. Just recently, Toyota issued the largest recall [] in its history. The defect was an improperly installed floor mat.

    Now, Toyota has been convicted of infringing some hybrid-technology patents and is allegedly infringing on even more hybrid-technology patents.

    Before we start sympathizing with Toyota instead of the "mean, money-hungry" patent holder, we should note that patents on solid, useful technologies are valid and are vital to spurring innovation. If we lived in a society when any corporate giant can just steal anyone's ideas, then we will diminish the spirit of innovation.

    However, even more is at stake here. Toyota has used its lawyers to force Ford (and now General Motors) to pay royalties to Toyota for hybrid-technology patents that it supposedly invented. A consequence of this new patent-infringement case may be that Ford has been paying the wrong business entity, and Toyota should refund all the royalties back to Ford. Such a situation would level the playing field for Ford.

    Note that Ford took a Japanese-designed vehicle, the Mazda 6, and both transformed it into the Fusion and elevated the Fusion to the quality level of a Toyota Camry. At Ford, quality is now really job #1 -- after the market brutally taught Ford managers and their unionized workers a lesson that they will never forget.

  • Re:That's bright! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @08:53PM (#29687995)
    Whilst I don't know for a fact, common sense tells me that the US should have the lowest drug pricing in the western world. Why? Because elsewhere, whoever purchases drugs, doesn't pay for them because the socialized healthcare system does and thus there's much less incentive for drug companies to compete on price since patients don't care, if they're prescribed the most expensive option.

    In a socialized medicine country, they say "we'll buy it for $10." The drug costs $5 to make. The drug companies have the choice of selling it for $10 or not selling it at all. In the US, they have a monopoly. They price the drug at $500 and run ads on TV explaining how if you don't have it you are stupid. Insurance pays for all but the copay. And in some cases, where the drug company said "then we won't sell it" the response was "then we won't honor your patent here, and if we have to start making it ourselves, I wouldn't be surprised if it ended up on the black market headed back into the US." In almost all cases, the drug company sold it for the lower price, except where they give the drugs away for free and claim the deduction off the highest world-wide sale price (i.e. giving them away in one African country while the general price there was $20, but claming $2000 deduction on it because that's what they sell it in the US for).

    I live in a European country with socialized medicine and suffer from a condition for which I must buy what I've been prescribed every three months and the receipt says 2 000+ EUR (almost $ 3 000) but I pay only 3 EUR (about $ 4).

    I live in a country with socialized medicine. All my prescriptions state the purchase price, and none of them have any number other than that. I'm curious where you are that they give you a receipt that doesn't match what you pay. What's the drug? Perhaps someone else who gets it in the US could say what it costs there.
  • by rgmoore ( 133276 ) <> on Thursday October 08, 2009 @09:24PM (#29688157) Homepage

    But the court already ordered Toyota to pay royalties "based on the wholesale prices equal to 0.48 percent for a second- generation Prius, 0.32 percent for each Highlander and 0.26 percent for each Lexus RX400h."

    But those aren't the cars at issue in this case. Paice is now suing over new vehicles that were sold since the last suit. It sounds as if Toyota is playing hardball by claiming that new models have modified drivetrains that don't violate the patent. As long as the suits take longer than a car generation, they can force Paice to re-litigate for each new generation of hybrid. I don't know if the judge will put up with that behavior, but I can see why Toyota is willing to give it a try.

  • Re:That's bright! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by grapeape ( 137008 ) <mpope7.kc@rr@com> on Thursday October 08, 2009 @10:30PM (#29688499) Homepage

    I can sympathize with that, about 5 years ago my wife was diagnosed with an incurable but non-debilitating illness, it can and is treated medicinally. I happened to be unemployed at the time after being laid off and cobra had run out...I had been actively looking for work but had to take medicare to get by until I found a job. After I found one, I tried to go from medicare to the same companies paid healthcare and was told my wifes illness was a pre-existing condition (even though it was discovered while covered by the medicare side of the same company) and I havent been able to get her coverage since. In the meantime my bills keep outpacing my ability to pay them and keep a roof over my familes head. IMHO thats broken.

  • Re:That's bright! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by easyTree ( 1042254 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @01:36AM (#29689281)

    I don't get how anyone can claim they have the right to being cured of any sickness they get. Doctors work their asses off to get where they are. How fair is it for those doctors to have to treat bums off the street who haven't contributed anything to society.

    That there really hits the nail on the head. That's exactly what's wrong with your 'health'-care system and why those who are happy with it don't realize that it's broken. It's just a little thing known as compassion. The recognition of how it feels to suffer from an illness not of your own causing and the ability of some to free others from this.

    In civilized countries, people understand this :D

    Once again, I guess it goes without saying.. "hit me with your troll mods"

  • Re:That's bright! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by init100 ( 915886 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @05:13AM (#29690145)

    Would this have blown your mind if you heard about it on September 14, 1998, the earliest priority date?

    Heard about what? Hybrid cars? The first time I heard/read about a hybrid car was in the early 90's, when Volvo uncovered their Environmental Concept Car (ECC), which was powered by a gas turbine engine combined with an electric motor and batteries.

  • Re:That's bright! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bzipitidoo ( 647217 ) <> on Friday October 09, 2009 @03:27PM (#29697323) Journal
    Of course steamrolling has happened. I'd like a new system set up in which it can't. What I mean is, if there were no speed limits, it would be impossible to speed. Can't get a parking ticket for an expired meter if the parking space isn't metered. Same thing with intellectual property. If ideas couldn't be owned, they couldn't be stolen. And they couldn't be hoarded, buried, blocked, squelched, forgotten or anything else contrary to the intent of advancement. The saddest use of a patent has to be to prevent anyone else from using an idea not so the owner can use it, but so that no one at all can use it as the owner feels it may compete with the owner's existing business. It's as if the telegraph company could have bought up the patents for the telephone to stop the telephone from existing so that everyone had to keep using telegraphs. Holding everything up while the involved parties haggle over it as if it is a consumable good is nearly as bad. Not only let Ford use the idea, but hope that Ford uses it! Then, to further encourage innovation, have the little guy receive compensation out of a fund set up for this purpose.

    Instead of a vicious court fight full of nasty slurs over "theft" and talk of grossly disproportionate fines to punish wrongdoers when it isn't clear that anyone meant to or did anything wrong at all, we could have a nice pleasant discussion over how useful the idea was to Ford and therefore how much compensation the little guy deserves. When 2 kids fight over 1 toy, you shouldn't resolve the issue by smashing the toy, thrashing both kids within an inch of their lives, grounding them for a month, and threatening even more serious consequences(!) next time, but that's been the flavor of the courts' decisions. Even just allowing people to go ahead and use an idea and worry later about just compensation without having to fear being ruined by a bad day in court would be a big help. Maybe not as much fun for drama fans, but a whole lot better for us all.

Solutions are obvious if one only has the optical power to observe them over the horizon. -- K.A. Arsdall