Major automaker Toyota announced at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that it would release all of its nearly 6,000 patents pertaining to hydrogen car technology royalty-free for the next five years. Officials most likely hope that this sort of move will encourage other auto manufacturers and capital to invest in the hydrogen economy. Of the nearly 6,000 patents, about 1,970 are related to the in-vehicle fuel cell stacks, 290 surround the technology of high-pressure hydrogen tanks needed to safely transport the fuel, and 70 relate to hydrogen production.
Toyota isn’t the first major auto maker to make such a bold move. In fact, they might as well taken inspiration from Tesla Motors which also released all its patents royalty-free last summer. Both hydrogen and electric cars have failed to win over customers past early adopters and rich eco enthusiasts, and both companies hope that this way there might be enough incentive to get the ball moving. A smart player knows that you need to make the pie bigger, so that even if you get a small slice, it’s still a lot bigger than what you had before.
Before electric and hydrogen cars can take off, however, they first need to settle some of their major issues. Most importantly, infrastructure. Both vehicles need custom filling stations to meet their needs, else customers won’t be able to leave their suburban neighborhood. There’s also an issue concerning their eco friendliness. While both types of cars have zero emissions during operation, their life cycle says otherwise. Hydrogen is mainly made from refining methane in an energy intensive process that burns fossil fuel. The same can be said about the electricity that charges the batteries for the electric car; batteries which are made from toxic materials, also manufactured in an energy intensive process.
Yes, there are many hurdles ahead, but I for one salute Toyota’s initiative. What kind of progress would the world see if everything was “open source”? I’d leave that to you to answer.