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Ford Lags in Alt-Energy Patents

Posted by: Michael Arndt on November 4, 2009

Ford Motor may have cheered investors with back-to-back reports this week that it netted almost $1 billion in the third quarter and increased its market share and year-over-year sales in October. (See this report from my BW colleague David Welch.) But the No. 3 car seller in the U.S. is laps behind in the alternative energy race, says a new study from Thomson Reuters.

The financial info company tallied patents and patent applications in alternative energy, an area it considers to be a proxy for automotive innovation, from 2008 through 2009’s first quarter. Ford finished 12th, with 137 patent grants and filings. No. 1 Toyota Motor had 2,899—or 21 times more than Ford. Even General Motors bested Ford, coming in fourth, with 451 patent documents. (GM also outsells Ford, as does Toyota.)

Thomson Reuters also examined patent data in two other areas on the forefront of innovation—vehicle security and navigation—in 2003 and again in 2008 and the first quarter of this year. Ford didn’t make the top 20 in any of these rankings.

Not to dump too much on Ford, I should note that it is moving up in alt-energy patents. In 2003, the carmaker wasn’t even in the top 20, with 43 grants and applications. In 2008, it was 13th, with 116. I have asked Ford for a response, but haven’t heard back.

For the record, here’s the top 12 list in alternative-powered vehicle patents in the most recent five-quarter period:

1. Toyota 2,899
2. Nissan 601
3. Hyundai 549
4. GM 451
5. Honda 449
6. Matsushita 383
7. Nippondenso 334
8. Sanyo 219
9. Sumitomo 198
10. Hitachi 196
11. Bosch 144
12. Ford 137

Reader Comments

GM Daughter

November 4, 2009 3:55 PM

Is GM still wasting money on hydrogen?

Mike Gautreaux

November 5, 2009 9:01 AM

It is only a question of the turtle and the hare....see if you can dump on Ford in a constructive way.


November 5, 2009 10:34 AM

And what's significant about this? Toyota has the prius? Sure it gets better mileage that any other 4 door, but is too small for most families. GM's hybrids are laughable their 4 cylinder Malibu gets better mileage than the hybrid Malibu and the Volt at it's expected price point will NEVER pay it self off. Their "two-mode" hybrid system for full size trucks has the same issue, its' too expensive and produces marginal returns.
On the other hand Ford as the Escape and Fusion both are life-sized vehicles that lead their class in mpg. Ford is leading the way with the eco-boost engine in vehicles people may actually be able to afford.
It isn't notable to the author that there are zero European auto makers in the top ten? And we all regard Audi, BWM, Mercedes as non innovators don't we?

GM Father

November 5, 2009 10:40 AM

Why is research on hydrogen as an alternative fuel a waste of money? Please explain.

robert bongiorni

November 5, 2009 10:45 AM

ford hasnt improved gas milage on 3.0 in 10 years& the f150 5.4 is deplorable as i have a 2007 that gets between8&16mpg. trade in value sucks.


November 5, 2009 11:35 AM

I think hydrogen is a waste of money because it is only energy dense by mass, but not by volume. It is extremely difficult to store hydrogen as a liquid and if you store it as a gas, your vehicle will have a very short range or a gigantic storage tank. Additionally, most hydrogen is extracted from methane gas, so the carbon footprint argument is pretty weak. Basically hydrogen is not a viable fuel for automobiles. An option much more likely to pay off would be biofuels, gas-to-liquid fuels, etc. I'm not too certain what the prospects are for pure electric vehicles, but they don't seem especially promising to me with the current weight and storage capacity of batteries and the risks associated with "super capacitors".


November 5, 2009 2:15 PM

Well, it may hint that patenting is not their strategy in intellectual capital management (ICM). Or for them, IP is not considered as core competence.

Number of patents tells us little of their true value. Patents have to be analysed in their strategic value. Of the 100 odds Ford's patent can be core strategic patents which outvalue Toyota's 2000 something patents. Further investigation is needed for us to come to a clearer conclusion.

Patent works well when work-around is difficult. The researchers know the difficulty. So it is not easy to tell if whether Ford's R&D department has researched on that.


November 6, 2009 11:30 AM

Ford's alternative energy engineers are completely outnumbered by Toyota's (at least 10 to 1 just on batteries alone). They are totally focused on delivering great products, and they file patents on the side when they get a free minute. I don't think this is the greatest idea, mind you, just stating the facts. We really could/should do better at taking time to file patents and papers etc.


November 12, 2009 8:00 PM

The number of patents DOES NOT equal innovation!!!! You DO NOT need patents to innovate and just because you have thousands of patents DOES NOT MEAN YOU HAVE INNOVATED!!!!!


November 13, 2009 9:32 AM

I'm going to be blunt. I think that equating innovation with the number of patents held is stupid.


January 26, 2010 2:56 AM

What happened to the carburetor patent in the 60's that could get close to 100 mpg? Did the innovating oil companies buy that and buried it somewhere?

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