In a move which is reminiscent of Tesla, Ford announced plans this week to allow competitors to have access to the company's 640 electric vehicle patents. The company also has around 1000 additional patents awaiting clearance, many of which will also be made available to competitors. This is certainly a very interesting move from the leading car manufacturer but will it ultimately make any difference to the electric vehicle market?
There are many factors to consider when looking at the cost and affordability of manufacturing electric vehicles.
We can only estimate the research and development costs associated with Ford’s EV patents which are likely to ruin into the hundreds of millions if not the billions of dollars. This is a problem which many of the smaller more innovative electric vehicle manufacturers are faced with: the ability to bankroll new technology before it actually goes on sale. Even though Ford is associated with traditional vehicles and traditional technology it does have a number of potentially groundbreaking patents in place.
It may well be that the more innovative and forward thinking electric vehicle companies of the future will take up some of the Ford patents available and develop them into something even more useful to the industry.
Inward fighting does not help
While it would be wrong to say that the electric vehicle sector has attracted significant infighting, at least in public, it is also fair to say that electric vehicle manufacturers have not always seen eye to eye. We have seen an array of different technology standards pushed into the marketplace which very often split public opinion and cost. Thankfully some of these areas, such as battery recharging standards, have been merged into a manageable number of alternatives.
The bottom line is that without current government assistance the industry would not be where it is today and indeed once electric vehicles go "mass market" it is unlikely that we will see the same level of cooperation between electric vehicle companies. However, at this moment in time the opening up of patent portfolios has thrown up some very interesting opportunities for those willing to invest time, money and effort.
Is it all for the good of the industry?
Many will be sceptical about the announcement from Ford that its EV patent portfolio will be available to competitors going forward. The truth is that if any of the current group of electric car manufacturers wants to be successful, have mass-market appeal, and make money, they will need to work together in the short-term. It may be a case of biting their lips when working with competitors which they have maybe never seen eye to eye with but that is just business.
Whether we would have seen the likes of Ford and some other electric vehicle manufacturers open up their patent portfolios if Tesla had not opened the gate is debatable. Tesla is in more ways than one a breath of fresh air to the industry, a leading light, and thankfully it seems to be committed to the sector going forward.