Automakers are a secretive lot. They make you sign your life away with non-disclosures and promises to not take pictures or reveal anything when you’re on their property. They even put fancy tape over your phone and laptop lenses that keep you from taking unauthorized pictures. What happens if you take that tape off? I know one guy who did and, come to think of it, I haven’t seen him since. Yet Toyota has chosen a different route with its hydrogen fuel cell technology by opening up those patents for everyone.
The company announced that they will not enforce the over 5,600 patents it has related to hydrogen fuel cell technology through 2020. Instead it is hoping that its rivals will use those patents to develop new vehicles. The belief is that by sharing their knowledge, others will build on it to help the whole niche develop more quickly for everyone.
Tesla followed a similar tactic when it did the same thing with all of its patents related to its electric cars and once even had a partnership going with Toyota. Back in 2011, Toyota bought a 2.4 percent stake in Tesla and agreed that it would use the company’s battery packs in its electric RAV4. The partnership didn’t last and they split up as Toyota turned to hydrogen.
Share and share alike seems to be the trend on emerging technology, but it’s not as altruistic as you might think. Both hydrogen fuel cell and electric vehicles need the public to opt in before they can be successful. If there aren’t many cars out there using the tech, then people naturally assume it’s not really ready and will shy away from giving it a try. If every automaker offered a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, that’d certainly have buyers giving it a second look.
Increased adoption by manufacturers also means that they’ll be more inclined to promote the infrastructure needed to make the cars a viable choice. Do you know where there’s a nearby hydrogen refueling station? Yeah, me neither. There are only around a dozen of them in the whole United States, so that’s going to have to change if people are going to take the technology seriously.
Tesla has been fighting this battle hard with its network of charging stations that span the country. They even have maps in their stores with little red dots all over the place to prove that you really will be able to juice up your car no matter where you drive. The same can definitely not be said for hydrogen fueling stations, but Toyota hopes sharing the tech will spur everyone toward change.