Toyota is serious about hydrogen fuel cell technology. It's so serious that it's not only welcoming competition, it's helping it. At this year's Consumer Electronics Show, the automaker announced that it will open more than 5,500 fuel cell patents and provide royalty-free licenses to other automakers and entities.
Upon walking into Toyota's CES press conference, the shimmering Mirai under the hard conference room lighting suggested that it might just be a rehashing of the details we already learned at November's LA Auto Show. Instead, Toyota used the Mirai as a jumping off point for what it terms the "hydrogen future."
"We're leaving the age of hydrocarbons and entering the age of hydrogen to create a hydrogen non-polluting society," physicist, futurist and author Dr. Michio Kaku said from Toyota's dais. "Seventy-five percent of the universe is made out of hydrogen. Hydrogen is the most plentiful substance in the universe. Contrast that now to oil, black gold, one of the rarest of substances on the Planet Earth. Nations will kill to secure supplies of oil. Oil is found perhaps in the most dangerous, volatile, unstable areas of the Planet Earth."
Toyota hopes to help jumpstart this future hydrogen society by sharing its intellectual property. This week's announcement represents the first time that it's sharing patents free of charge. The automaker helped to grow the gas-electric hybrid market in a similar manner, but those licensed technologies didn't come free.
"At Toyota, we believe that when good ideas are shared, great things can happen," said Bob Carter, senior VP of automotive operations at Toyota Motor Sales, USA Inc. "The first generation hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, launched between 2015 and 2020, will be critical, requiring a concerted effort and unconventional collaboration between automakers, government regulators, academia and energy providers. By eliminating traditional corporate boundaries, we can speed the development of new technologies and move into the future of mobility more quickly, effectively and economically."
The approximately 5,680 total global patents break down into roughly 3,350 fuel cell system software control patents, 1,970 fuel cell stack-related patents, 290 high-pressure hydrogen tank patents, and 70 hydrogen production and supply patents. They will be made available to fuel cell vehicle manufacturers, fuel cell parts suppliers, and hydrogen fueling station companies through an initial market introduction period that Toyota expects to run until 2020. Toyota will consider requests from outside the transportation sector on a case by case basis.
Last year, Tesla announced a similar move, opening its EV patents to the competition..