The auto industry's scramble into new kinds of vehicle power has unleashed a tidal wave of technology patents that will make their way into vehicles in the coming decade.
Last year saw 15,077 patents and patent applications for alternative-power innovations around the global industry, according to the Thomson Reuters Derwent World Patents Index, a database of global patent activity managed in London. Five years earlier, the field generated 6,847 patents and patent applications.
A disproportionate share of the new patents is coming from automakers in Japan and South Korea.
The patent data are significant because they are the harbinger of new products being developed in secrecy in research and engineering labs around the world. Patent applications can take four to five years to be awarded for commercial protection.
The Thomson Reuters index also spotted an 84 percent increase in the volume of patent activity in vehicle security systems over the past five years and a rise of 73 percent in the volume of patents and applications related to vehicle navigation.
"Despite the recession, people aren't patenting less," says Jeremy Rosie, Thomson Reuters' director of intellectual-property solutions in London. "As you can see in the volumes of new patents, the activity is increasing rather than diminishing."