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Will Patent Wars Stop Autonomous Vehicles in Their Tracks?

Will Patent Wars Stop Autonomous Vehicles in Their Tracks?

Author: Vineeth Joel Patel   

It's just a matter of time until autonomous cars come out, as automakers and technology companies are targeting sometime within the next five years as the target date for the release of fully self-driving vehicles. Cars that can drive themselves without any help from humans are coming, and they're coming quickly. 

As Popular Mechanics reports, companies are spending billions of dollars developing hardware, software, and battery technology to help bring driverless vehicles to the road sooner. And while it may look like companies are spending incredibly large amounts of money to develop new tech, it looks companies are doing this for selfish reasons. 

Autonomous Cars Are Making Patents A Battle Ground

"Once money is involved, as innovators transition into commercial enterprises, things get complicated," says Bryan Reimer, Research Scientist in the MIT's AgeLab and the Associate Director of the New England University Transportation Center at MIT. 

As the outlet claims, things in the autonomous segment are getting more complicated as tech companies and automakers are looking to protect their innovations instead of solely attempting to transform mobility. Popular Mechanics states that companies are afraid of courts getting clogged with patent lawsuits, causing innovation to come to a screeching halt. 

An example of the situation arose earlier this year when Waymo, Alphabet's self-driving arm, opened a lawsuit against Uber. Waymo claimed one of Uber's employees stole the company's intellectual property, which resulted in the former employee stepping down. Popular Mechanics also points towards Apple and Samsung's patent war-battle as a prime reason for the lack of evolution in the smartphone industry. 

Why Everyone Needs To Work Together

In a perfect world, automakers and tech companies would work together with one another to bring driverless vehicles to the road. According to Reimer, that's the only way for mobility to drastically change. If the cars are going to "communicate and work together over a standard network that has not yet been defined," says Reimer, then everyone will have to work together. 

It looks like some companies are willing to work together, as partnerships have started to flourish. Popular Mechanics points towards Volvo and Autoliv's partnership, which will see another company, Zenutity, be made. There are multiple examples of how companies are working together to, including Bosch, Baidu, and Continental's alliance. Other companies could get the message, and follow suit in the near future. 

But not everyone's willing to work together. "Instead they are primed to vehemently protect their intellectual property, or more broadly, talent, as usual," says Reimer. "Look at the impending fireworks between Google and Uber, for instance." 

How Patents Can Stifle Innovation

While the lawsuit may look like it's straightforward business for both companies, Jeanne Fromer, Professor of Law at New York University, believes it's a big deal. "Innovation in such as environment is typically cumulative when there is an awful lot of companies or people working in the same space at the same time," says Fromer. "One innovation builds on another, builds on another. The consequence is that everybody is going to be infringing everybody's patents eventually."

When one company builds the ultimate autonomous vehicle and gets a patent for the machine, it will block others from using the patent and stifle the development of future technology, eventually bringing autonomous cars to a halt. And while patent disputes are a normal part of the innovation process, one organization could decide that it doesn't want to share its patent or share it for an insane amount of money. Autonomous cars will die, and patents will bring about their death, unless automakers and companies can learn to place nicely with each other. 

via: Popular Mechanics

Vineeth Joel Patel
Vineeth Joel Patel
Joel Patel has been covering all aspects of the automotive industry for four years as an editor and freelance writer for various websites. When it comes to cars, he enjoys covering the merger between technology and cars. In his spare time, Joel likes to watch baseball, work on his car, and try new foods
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