Griffith Hack Clean & Sustainable Technologies

Electric & Hybrid Vehicles: Patent Risks and Opportunities by Justin Blows

Green cars are sprouting up everywhere. It’s no wonder since policy implementers including the Obama administration and the Australian Government are taking “green cars” seriously. The IEEE put out this short movie about hybrid and electric vehicles. It explains that pollution, energy security, and climate change are all important  factors driving policy.

The Camry hybrid concept car

The Camry hybrid concept car

Electric and hybrid vehicles, and associated cleantech Research and Development, is accelerating particularly rapidly.  Toyota announced a new Camry concept hybrid car with a decent power output of 143kW, and Honda is releasing a new version of their cheaper Insight hybrid car.

Better Placeis installing, in various cities around the world (including Melbourne), a network of stations that can replace drained batteries with fresh ones – just like filling a vehicle with a new tank of gas. Chinese auto maker BYD Build Your Dreams, believes that the future has electric cars filling the roads, with quick-charge stations being as readily available as petrol stations today. BYD has unveiled a series of slick electric and plug-in hybrids as it prepares to enter the US and European markets in 2011.

IBM and a Danish company have joined together to develop smart technology that controls the charging rates of electric vehicles, depending on the availability of renewable energy at any instant.

So how much patent activity is there in this area? Lynne Teo, a professional patent searcher at Griffith Hack, searched for patents applications worldwide related to electric or hybrid vehicles. Lynne found 37,907 patent applications between 1970 and 2007. Wow – that is a lot of patents. Innovators are continuing to cement their significant commercial advantage through patenting, with around 2,500 applications in 2007 alone, slightly down from the peak of over 3,000 in 2006. The number of patent applications filed each year is graphed below. It turns out that the US had an electric and hybrid vehicle program during the first oil crisis (around 1976), which is represented as a small hump between 1976-1985 in the graph below. It is also interesting to compare the patenting data to the historical oil price which appear to be somewhat correlated. But electric and cars have been in development for quite some time. The first US patent was published100 years ago this year.

historical oil prices

The patent landscape is becoming highly populated. Players in hybrid and electric vehicles and their supporting infrastructure need to know what patents are out there. Searching for relevant prior art before patenting helps considerably in determining if an idea is patentable or not. A patent can only be granted if the idea the patent seeks to protect is new. These published patents are easily found by a searcher – and also a patent examiner who may want to reject your application!

A lot of relevant – perhaps seminal – prior art will have been generated by the US electric and hybrid vehicle program of the 1970’s. They present a rich source of prior art that patent examiners will draw upon. Fortunately, these patents have expired and so the technology disclosed in them can be used freely without risk of infringement. But the mountain of patent applications, starting around 1989 presents a real infringement risk because some of these patents will now be granted and alive. Knowing the risks of infringing the patents of others is, in many cases, imperative before an investment is made. A patent search to find what patents are out there is a first step in identifying the risks and neutralising them.

Searching can also inform you as to what technological areas are currently poorly covered by patents. Patenting over these areas can result in significant strategic advantage, or help to identify a business opportunity.

[Source of patent data: Delphion National Collections including patent records from the US, Europe, WIPO PCT, Japan, Germany and INPADOC]

Justin Blows


Hyundai: Baiting the bear? by Justin Blows
February 27, 2009, 12:14 pm
Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , ,

This article discusses Hyundai’s new hybrid cars.  I noticed the following passage:

“Hyundai says its biggest advantage is that it is a late-comer to the petrol-electric field – Toyota launched the Prius in 1997 in Japan. Hyundai says its engineers did not have to invent the parts required for a hybrid drive system, they only had to improve on them.”

 I wonder what Toyota, who has over 2,000 patents for hybrid vehicles, has to say about this. 


Solar hot water rebate extended in NSW by Justin Blows
February 24, 2009, 9:22 am
Filed under: News | Tags: , , , ,

According to this report, he New South Wales Government has extended rebates for solar hot water systems and rainwater tanks until 2011.

Consumers can now claim up to $2,800 for climate friendly hot water systems, and $2,000 for rain water tanks, through a combination of state and federal rebates.

Are printable solar panels the future? by Justin Blows

The CSIRO has developed a printable solar technology, as reported here.  The CSIRO has issued this media release.

Will we wrap our buildings in plastic for solar power in the future?

Will we wrap our buildings in plastic for solar power in the future?

Amazingly, the CSIRO are expecting printing speeds of 200m / minute which means that enormous lengths can be produced very rapidly.

It is expected that the printed solar sheets will be suitable for covering large surfaces such as those provided by large buildings.


Opportunities for Clean and Sustainable Technologies by Griffith Hack
February 17, 2009, 10:19 am
Filed under: Events & Seminars | Tags:

Griffith Hack held a seminar on Wednesday 18th February on how you can use the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to enter the exploding clean and sustainable technology markets in the developing world, and how to protect your technology in these vast markets. The seminar was presented by Sally Burns, Founder of Sigma Global, John Johnson, Director Services at Pyksis, and Dr Justin Blows from the GH Clean & Sustainable Technologies Group.

February 17, 2009, 9:43 am
Filed under: News | Tags: ,


It is reported here that an agreement has been signed between Southern California Edison and BrightSource Energy Inc. for the supply of 1,300MW of power from thermal solar plants.  Up to 7 thermal solar plants will be built.  BrightSource power specialises in solar tower technology, in which an array of heliostats concentrate sun light onto a solar receiver in the tower.


It is expected that the plants will be operational at 2013.


BrightSource solar is the assignee for US Patent Application 11/747,595.  This patent application is for a high temperature solar receiver, well suited for installation in solar receiver towers.


This is yet another example of the US State of California supporting solar thermal power.  Recently, the Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger opened a plant for another solar thermal company AUSRA, which absorbed technology from its related company Solar Heat and Power, a client of Griffith Hack.  Clearly the US is an important country to file solar power patents in.


Solar Tower surrounded by a heliostat array



Smart meters get a lot smarter by Justin Blows

Smart meters attached to a premises typically communicate with a utility providing electricity to the premises, and sometimes with devices powered within the premises to give detailed information about what electricity has been consumed and when. Smart meters, which falls under the umbrella of cleantech, or clean and sustainable technologies, have been put forward as a significant way to reduce electricity consumption because electricity consumption can be viewed real-time and devices turned off. Smart meters are also allowing utilities to provide more flexible tariff rates, with significantly adjusted tariffs according to current network loading. A big step forward is linking these devices (or at least the information they generate) to the Internet. This will allow people to look at their consumption instantly on the net together with related information like current electricity prices to allow consumers to make decisions on usage. Some electrical devices may even be linked to the Internet and there electricity usage varied according to information from the smart meter and the utility, such as off peak running, which can be great for the environment.


Now Google, motivated by environmental concerns, is developing a system allowing consumers to monitor their electricity consumption intimately. The system will give appliance specific information and the cost of running that appliance at a particular time. In advanced versions of Google’s system, individual appliances could be controlled remotely to maximise the economic and environmental outcomes. Have a look at Google’s plans here.  Google is looking for industry partners to help them achieve their vision.