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Google's Mobility Patents Reveal its Path to Domination

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【Summary】Previously, Toyota was top patent holder in the space. But now, according to Oliver Wyman, a high caliber international consulting firm, that position is being challenged by Google.

Michael Cheng    May 25, 2017 8:05 AM PT
Google's Mobility Patents Reveal its Path to Domination

New technologies call for new discoveries and inventions. In order to preserve one's hard work and long-term strategy, many companies turn to patents and invest deeply in research and development projects. Originally designed as a way to control licensing rights, some businesses are using patents as a way to block certain technologies from being used by their competitors. 

For example, in the cloud computing space, IBM is currently dominating the patent war with Microsoft and Sharp Lab of America not too far behind (Google and Amazon are in the top 10).

In the nascent self-driving industry, there are numerous patents being awarded. Previously, Toyota was top patent holder in the space. But now, according to Oliver Wyman, a high caliber international consulting firm, that position is being challenged by Google.

Mobility vs Self-driving

Based on analysis conducted by Oliver Wyman and World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), it is possible to see where Google's Waymo could be headed. According to researchers, there were over 5,000 mobility-related patents filed between 2012 and 2016. In the sustainable technology category, which includes EV-related developments, batteries and fuel cells, Audi, Daimler, General Motors, Volkswagen, BMW, and Tesla make up roughly 3,800 of the total number of patents. 

It is crucial to highlight that this category is mostly filled with automakers. Out of the thousands of patents filed related to green technology, only seven were awarded to tech companies.

In self-driving, the scene is very different. Google and other large tech brands currently lead patent filing, making up around 33.3 percent of the 1,200 patents awarded. Furthermore, businesses that didn't file in the sustainable technology category are present in autonomous driving, such as Uber, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook. It is important to point out here that this category also includes connectivity-related technologies.

"Where the number of mobility patents increased over the five years for tech players by 50 percent, the number actually decreased for the six automakers. The research and development budget rose 20 percent for the tech players and 5 percent for the car companies," explained the researchers.

General Motors' interest spans in both categories, with 65 percent of its current patents in autonomous technologies.

Car-sharing Ambitions

So far, based on the firm's analysis, it's clear that Google's Waymo isn't interested in manufacturing cars, which is why they have been aggressive on forming partnerships with automakers. This observation seems to be supported by the tech giant's activities in the mobility services category (car-sharing, app development and navigation technology).

Interestingly, Google again leads this category with 30 patents. Uber, a company that was expected to dominate this category, only filed two patents.

"This analysis leads to two overarching conclusions. First, the research and development activities of digital players like Google show how serious they are about becoming part of the mobility ecosystem," said the researchers.

Software's leading role in modern cars has allowed tech brands to enter the industry that at one point only consisted of automakers. This trend will likely continue, as self-driving vehicles eventually become the norm on public roads.

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