Legislative initiatives to cut emissions have led to developments in fuel efficiency and battery technology. The growth of electric vehicles and the 'smart grid' has also spawned the creation of vehicle-to-grid technology (V2G), which allows owners of electric vehicles to make money by selling unused power from the vehicle back to the grid to help support electricity supply during peak times. This new industry again requires innovation, resulting in patent opportunities and threats.
The move to electric poses as many risks as it does opportunities for traditional supply chain businesses, with the need for many parts being eradicated. These businesses must adapt to survive. As a consequence, the 20 largest automotive supply chain businesses filed over 300 patents last year, pre-empting a move to manufacturing electric car components.
Changes in vehicle structure, such as improvements in aerodynamics, will also result in exciting new registrable designs.
While investments in new technologies and designs are important, we should pay heed to the lessons learned from Dyson, which was forced to abandon its electric car project when it failed to find a buyer for patented designs showing unusually large wheels, a high vehicle floor, low roof and a small overhanging front and rear. While vehicle design will inevitably change, it must remain attractive to consumers to be competitive.
Connectivity refers to vehicles which effectively behave as a computer on wheels. The connected vehicle itself constantly collects and generates data about the driver and the journey. As the world becomes more connected, vehicles will be able to communicate with more points of connectivity, including the surrounding infrastructure and other vehicles. The vehicle's capacity to process data will grow accordingly.
Software has been an important part of our vehicles for many years, underpinning technologies such as infotainment, parking sensors and cruise control. As we move into a more connected world, on-board technology will become increasingly sophisticated. Traditional manufacturers will be faced with complex technical challenges, many of which will be overcome in collaboration with experts in these issues, working outside of the industry.
Arguably, the data collected by the vehicles is even more valuable than the underlying software, as it presents opportunities for every participant in the network to commercialise and monetise that data. Vehicles will generate such vast quantities of data that it will be important to identify what is of value, how it can be protected and how it can be shared. IP and compliance issues will need to be navigated.
Outside of the vehicle itself, infrastructure will also develop to communicate with and support the vehicle. These developments will also be worth protection.
As shared mobility develops, cost effective design improvements will be crucial to making journeys safer, more comfortable and more accessible. Whether you're creating a vehicle, tracks, tramlines or even a water route, consideration will need to be given to how these can be best protected.
As we move away from car ownership towards a model of mobility as a service, these issues will remain just as pertinent, if not more so. The fundamental principles and value of IP protection and enforcement apply irrespective of the designs, technology and business models used.
Co-written by Katy Bourne of Pinsent Masons.