Issue: May 2009


Fallbrook continues to lead, Porsche jumps up



According to The Patent Board’s Automotive & Transportation Patent Scorecard™ published in The Wall Street Journal, M&A activity shakes up key players in the industry.

by Steve Barclay

The latest Automotive & Transportation Patent Scorecard™ was released today and has ranked 172 of the top Automotive & Transportation companies according to the relative strengths of their patent portfolios. The Patent Scorecard provides readers with deeper insight into patent portfolios as measurable financial assets and drivers of the market value. The Technology Strength™ indicator is the basis of the Patent Scorecard™ rankings and provides an overall assessment of a company’s intellectual property quality and quantity.

The top 10 companies in the Automotive & Transportation industry remain unchanged from the previous Patent Scorecard – not a single company in the top 10 even budged in rank. Fallbrook Technologies, Inc. (Fallbrook) (San Diego, California, USA) continues to lead the industry with an impact over 40 times the industry average despite its small portfolio size of 21 issued U.S. patents. Fallbrook’s impact, however, is driven by internal citations, a pattern often seen when new, cutting-edge technology enters the patenting space. Fallbrook has developed a continuous variable planetary (CVP) for use in bicycles, scooters, and electric and hybrid vehicles. Honda Motor Co Ltd. (Honda) (Tokyo, Japan) remains in the third spot and holds the highest patent portfolio volume at 770 issued U.S. patents. Honda’s corporate goal is to have mobility for everyone, everywhere and current R&D efforts include technologies that range from developing new materials and new sources of energy, to new power trains for maximum performance and minimum eco-impact, to new work in decoding the rice genome for various applications. Currently, Honda is engaged in a project to develop a next-generation clean diesel engine. Another project, in cooperation with the Research Institute for Innovative Technology for the Earth (RITE), aims to produce ethanol from cellulosic biomass, a promising, secure supply of environmentally responsible alternative fuel. 4th-ranked Toyota Motor Corporation (Toyota-Cho, Japan) increased its Science Strength™ by 46%, indicating that Toyota is moving to build off of scientific research in its most recent patenting activities. Toyota is putting considerable effort into the development of power train technology in order to help preserve the global environment and achieve “sustainable mobility.” This technology is being developed from three perspectives: 1) improving fuel efficiency in order to reduce CO2 emissions, 2) making exhaust emissions cleaner to help abate atmospheric pollution, and 3) pursuing energy diversification. However, despite its dramatic increase, half of the companies in the top 10 have higher Science Strength™ than Toyota – making a shift to core science research a wise move for Toyota to remain at the top of its game.

Many companies in the Automotive & Transportation industry have active patenting activity in multiple industries. All of the top 10 companies are single industry companies. Among the top 50 companies, though, there are ten companies diversified into other technology industries, almost all of which are active in the Industrial Components & Fixtures industry, and a few of which are also active in Electronics & Instruments.

New to the Patent Scorecard is Hitachi Ltd (Tokyo, Japan), which made its debut in 14th position. Hitachi is now taking its history in electromechanical and electronics engineering and now has four system operations underway in the three engineering fields of "environment", "safety" and "information. In the environment field, they have been developing engine management systems and electric power train systems to achieve environmental preservation and energy high-efficiency. In the safety field, they are researching drive control systems that support drivers by linking outside recognition sensors with actuators. And in the information field, they are developing car information systems that can provide comfort and convenience valuable to car users through services such as map data updating service and traffic information service. Hitachi has an Industry Impact™ in line with the industry average. Hitachi’s Technology Strength™ is driven primarily by its large portfolio volume, which is approximately three times the average portfolio size in the Automotive & Transportation industry of 55, but small potatoes compared to the largest portfolios of Honda, Denso, Toyota and GM. Hitachi is the most diverse company of all tracked, present in eleven other industry Patent Scorecards.

Porsche Automobil Hldg SE (Zuffenhausen, Germany) makes the most spectacular jump up the Patent Scorecard ranking, moving from 73rd to 32nd place. Porsche’s dramatic rise comes just after its merger with fellow car-manufacturer Volkswagen AG (Wolfsburg, Germany), bringing Porsche’s current ownership in Volkswagen to over 50%. With double the patent portfolio, Porsche sees a 34% increase in its Industry Impact™, although it is still half of the industry average. Volkswagen’s pre-merger patent portfolio was slightly more impactful than Porsche’s, which is not surprising given that Porsche focuses on high-end luxury vehicles. Similarly, the Porsche-VW merger brings Porsche’s Research Intensity™ up 55%, but the combined score is still well below the industry average.

Fiat SpA (Turin, Italy) and Chrysler LLC (Detroit, Michigan, USA) made headlines since the last Patent Scorecard with a proposal that would let Fiat acquire a 35 percent ownership stake in Chrysler and give Chrysler access to Fiat’s fuel-efficient platform – mainly small-engine and small-car technology and power train technology. To promote sustainable mobility on multiple fronts, Fiat’s research and development work involves approximately 13,200 people at 116 centers around the world. Their R&D investments total some 1.6 billion Euros, or around 3.2% of net revenues of Industrial Activities. Fiat ranks 18th on the Automotive & Transportation Patent Scorecard™, while Chrysler ranks 44th. If Fiat were to acquire majority ownership in Chrysler, the combination of their portfolios would slightly improve Fiat’s standing in the Patent Scorecard. However, the Patent Scorecard would not tell whether the patented technology would be synergistic or beneficial to product initiatives, which would require a more intensive patent analysis.

About the Industry

The Automotive & Transportation industry includes companies that are involved in the manufacture and/or sale of land and sea vehicles and their parts. This includes tires, brakes, steering systems, engines, transmission systems and after-market products as well as sensors, safety systems, electronics and climate control

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