Autonomous Vehicles: Patenting Outside-the-box

Autonomous vehicle technology has the potential to profoundly alter transportation as we know it.  Aside from a fundamental sea change in the public’s perception of transportation in general, autonomous vehicle technology has the potential to alter the makeup of roadways by enabling an easing of traffic congestion due to vehicles being able to travel more efficiently and closer together, to promote safer car travel, and to potentially reduce carbon emissions if combined, for example, with electric technology.

In an industry with so much potential, there are of course innumerable opportunities for development of intellectual property portfolios related to autonomous vehicles.  The focus of today’s post is to emphasize that in such an industry with so much potential, it is important to think outside the box in search of new ideas and strategies.  As an example, consider a recent patent (US 9340178 B1) granted to Google, which aims to reduce “secondary impact” in a situation where a pedestrian were to be struck by an autonomous vehicle.  Secondary impact refers to the impact of a pedestrian hitting either a roof of the car, a street surface, etc., subsequent to the vehicle striking the pedestrian (initial impact).  Secondary impact often is what results in serious injuries, as compared to initial impact.

The Google patent aims to reduce secondary impact via an eggshell-like coating over an adhesive layer, such that insects and other small animals and debris are not constantly accumulating on the surface, but where a pedestrian may become stuck to the adhesive layer in the event of a collision.  By securing the pedestrian to the vehicle, the idea is that opportunity for serious injury may be reduced, due to the avoidance of secondary impact.  For a visual representation, refer to the figure below taken from the patent.



            While such an approach is certainly different (and may or may not ever be implemented), it serves the purpose of illustrating the importance of taking a broad approach to intellectual property pursuits in this exciting new era of autonomous vehicles.  Such an approach should not only be viewed as appropriate for the autonomous vehicle space.  Whatever industry you are involved in, are you thinking outside the box to develop your intellectual property portfolio?



As mentioned in our previous post, approaches for developing and managing your IP portfolio need to change to keep up with changes in technology.  Due to rapid progress in technology, a patented technology may only be commercially desirable for a limited amount of time, such as a few years.  However, patents typically have a term of twenty years.  How can you make the most of your patent during the entire duration of its term?  One approach during concept development and drafting of the patent application may be to include disclosure of how your inventive concept could be used in technologies that are only newly emerging, but may be mainstays down the road.  For example, in automobiles, it may be wise to consider how an inventive concept could be used in a hybrid or all electric vehicle, or how the inventive concept could be used in an autonomously-driven vehicle.  You could include claims directed to the use of the inventive concept in these newly-emerging technologies, or file a continuation application down the road.  In this way, an inventive concept may be expanded across multiple technology areas, thus increasing the value of your IP portfolio.