Toyota Releases Hydrogen Patents. What's Next?

Written By: Raymond Z.

Edited By: Assen Gueorguiev

                                          Toyota Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology

Taking a page from the Tesla Playbook of 2014, Toyota has announced it is making royalty-free use of 5,620 patents related to research the company has performed regarding the use of hydrogen fuel cells. The vast majority of the patents have to do with Toyota’s proprietary fuel cell power control software and fuel cell stacks. Another 290 are related to hydrogen storage tanks and 70 involve hydrogen production technologies. You may recall Tesla was the beneficiary of some massive positive PR when it made a similar move with its innovative battery technology.

Toyota has put some restrictions on the royalty-free patents but they are minimal and understandable. First, only car makers and those involved in producing and supplying hydrogen will have access to the patents and some will only be available through the next five years. Toyota is also asking companies who wish to use the patents to sign an agreement.

Toyota has stated that it believes we are moving toward a hydrogen-based society and there are some compelling reasons to move in that direction. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have no emissions (other than water). They can also be refilled quickly and currently have a greater range than battery-based electric vehicles….at least for now.

Is This Generosity or a Shrewd Business Move?

Is Toyota making the move out of a commitment to minimizing pollution or are they doing it as a business move?

First, it helps to recognize that corporations exist to create profits. That’s not a bad thing it is just the way it is. I do believe that there are some very smart, well-meaning people working on this technology who want to make a difference. We should all be rooting for them.

That being said, it is a shrewd business move on several layers. As I mentioned earlier, Toyota will be the beneficiary of some good public relations. In addition, the car company has been putting serious resources into their hydrogen fuel cell technology in the recent past. The challenge is that the infrastructure to expand use of hydrogen cell cars is almost non-existent. Something big needs to happen for Toyota to free up the market. Sharing millions of dollars-worth of research may just be what the automaker needs to bring more players into the game. This will likely greatly accelerate what Toyota and others involved in hydrogen vehicles may have been able to do by themselves. It is also on the doorstep of Toyota’s release in the 2016 model year of its hydrogen fuel cell Mirai.

The Big Question…What Happens Next?

Toyota is obviously making a dramatic move that is garnering them positive attention, but will it work?

Will suppliers and producers take advantage of the industrial intelligence Toyota is making? Will other automakers get into the hydrogen market? Will we look back on this as the definitive time in history when hydrogen fuel technology took hold and the infrastructure expanded?

If nothing else, it has Toyota and its hydrogen fueled Mirai in the headlines. It would be a shame if that is all that comes of it.

What are your thoughts? Is this what hydrogen technology needs to advance its mission? Will this move by Toyota make a dramatic change in the segment or will it ultimately be viewed as PR for a company promoting its upcoming new hydrogen model?

Let us know your thoughts!