Jaguar Land Rover has recently completed its fit-out of its Castle Bromwich Plant for producing the new electric, ninth-generation Jaguar XJ vehicle.
This site has seen a great deal of technical innovation over the years, having first been created as a shadow factory for the advanced Spitfire fighter plane and then subsequently being fitted out for building the highly automated robotised XJ40 in the 1980’s ready for Jaguar’s 4th generation XJ40 vehicle. The factory continues to produce other advanced vehicles in the model line-up, but this is the first time that Jaguar has set up for electric vehicle manufacturers in the U.K. (its fully electric I-Pace vehicle being made under contract by Magna Steyr in Austria).
The electrification of vehicles presents many new challenges and opportunities in the intellectual property sphere. Programs to reduce weight, increase battery efficiency and allow much higher peak charge and discharge currents lead the way to allowing fully electric vehicles to compete across the range of vehicle applications presently met by fossil fuel burning vehicles.
The EV market has hitherto been dominated by non-traditional motor manufacturers such as Tesla and with electronics manufacturers such as Dyson, on the starting blocks, also set to compete. There is thus considerable disruption in the technology field with EV startups, Dyson being very active in patent filings and businesses such as Tesla providing an open licensing program probably with the long-term view of stimulating the battery market in which Tesla also has a significant presence.
The more traditional manufacturers are catching up fast but have tended to focus, for the moment, on electric hybrid solutions based on existing models. Given the traditional manufacturers much longer experience in areas such as suspension systems and internal cabin finishes, it seems likely that the traditional manufacturers will eventually produce the better product, but for the moment the market has an element of the “wild west” with disruptive new businesses having much space to participate.
The IP landscape is thus also developing quickly and into hitherto unchartered areas. Based on 2018 figures, there are approximately 100,000 EV related patents with Hyundai having the greatest number. The other four manufacturers in the top five are Toyota, Kia Motors, Hitachi and General Motors. Interestingly, the U.K. Patent Office is Europe’s top national destination for EV patenting with 2.3 per cent of initial patent filings.
Non-automotive electronics/software companies also feature highly in patent filings in this area with Robert Bosch, Samsung and Sony holding nearly 900 relevant patents between them.
Given this disruption in the market and the IP landscape, there are a few important unusual considerations which new entrants and existing players would do well to consider.
- Existing monitoring of potential freedom to operate problems and competitor activity should extend beyond what might be perceived as traditional competition. As will be noted from above, there are several significant non-automotive businesses holding intellectual property rights in significant parts of the new EV supply chain.
- Battery technology and manufacturing will be critical to all EVs and the large scale design and manufacture of the battery packs have typically not been carried out by businesses traditionally associated with the automotive sector. Indeed, Jaguar Land Rover in its recent press releases concerning the conversion of the Castle Bromwich factory, commented very strongly that the lack of battery supply chain in the U.K. at the moment is likely to be a significant factor in its manufacturing choices for EVs in the future. Thus, businesses in this new sector should look very carefully at their battery sources and make sure that they have suitable access to both geographically and to technology rights such as patents.
- All the players in the field should be considering whether commercial advantage can be gained by carefully identifying and protecting their own internal innovations. Indeed, there are also many funding advantages through tax reliefs and grant schemes which can be accessed by obtaining intellectual property rights such as patents, on key technologies which will be incorporated into EVs.