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Who Invented the Hybrid Car? Toyota, Ford Finally Settle Patent Battles

Consider hybrids, and the name Toyota Prius probably comes to mind, or maybe even Ford Fusion. But how about Paice LLC and its founder, Alex Severinsky? Never heard of ’em? Well, Severinsky has for years waged legal battles against Toyota (s TM) and Ford (s F), claiming the two automakers have used his patented hybrid technology in their models. In the last few days settlements have emerged in both cases.

Ford and Paice filed lawsuits against one another in May over claims that the Ford Fusion hybrid infringes on a Paice patent (Ford sought a judgement that the patent is invalid). On Friday, however, Ford and Paice announced that they had reached a settlement. Details are sparse, but a release from Paice says the pair has entered an “an agreement for the license of Paice’s patent” and that “the lawsuits will be promptly dismissed, bringing to an end all patent infringement litigation between the two companies.”

Courtesy of the Cleantech Group at Heslin Rothenberg Farley & Mesiti P.C.

The suit illuminates how heated the race to develop and protect intellectual property related to green cars has become. According to Australia-based IP law firm Griffith Hack, filings for patents covering hybrid technology have been “increasing roughly exponentially” across much of the industry in the last few years, although the Clean Energy Patent Growth Index from intellectual property law firm Heslin Rothenberg Farley & Mesiti suggests a more gradual climb.

Issued back in 1994, Paice’s patent in the dispute with Ford (one of 11 patents that Paice has obtained related to hybrid tech) covers a high voltage system for using both an internal combustion engine and electric motor as sources of torque to drive the vehicle. At the heart of the system (as explained in the patent on file with the USPTO) is a microprocessor that “receives control inputs from the driver of the vehicle and monitors the performance of the electric motor and the internal combustion engine, the state of charge of the battery, and other significant variables.” It uses this data to determine whether the internal combustion engine, electric motor or both should provide torque to the wheels in a given situation.

With Toyota, Severinsky had claimed the automaker used his technology in the third-generation Prius, Lexus RX450h and HS250h, and the hybrid version of the Toyota Camry. According to Bloomberg, Severinsky was seeking royalties from the company’s hybrid sales after a judge declined to halt imports of the Prius, as well as Camry and Lexus hybrids.

Toyota, which has racked up thousands of patents for hybrid systems and components over the last decade, said that it had actually developed its own tech, thank-you-very-much. But on Monday, ahead of a U.S. International Trade Commission hearing scheduled to begin dealing with Paice’s claim, the pair announced an agreement to settle after six years of litigation.

According to a release from Paice today, the companies agreed that “although certain Toyota vehicles have been found to be equivalent to a Paice patent, Toyota invented, designed and developed the Prius and Toyota’s hybrid technology independent of any inventions of Dr. Severinsky and Paice as part of Toyota’s long history of innovation.”

Prius image courtesy of Toyota

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2 Responses to “Who Invented the Hybrid Car? Toyota, Ford Finally Settle Patent Battles”

  1. Wow, with all the big names in EV filing around 1,000 EV related patents PER YEAR, this could make the patent litigation we’ve seen around mobile phones look like a minor skirmish.