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Clark Hill 2024 Automotive & Manufacturing Industry Outlook: Intellectual Property

March 7, 2024

Protecting the Innovations of the Vehicles of the Future

Numerous technologies for powering automobiles are suddenly in competition with one another. Recent news on environmentally friendly vehicles has focused on using hydrogen as a fuel source of choice. Around the same time, the Biden administration indicated that it may slow the government incentives that had been installed to promote EVs. Only a few months before, hybrid vehicles were in the news for stealing the spotlight from Electric Vehicles (EVs), and Hertz announced that it was selling a significant portion of its EV fleet to replace with gasoline powered vehicles, including hybrids. Just a few months before that announcement, EVs were in the press as the future of automobiles — and they may be again soon, just wait a few months for the news cycle to come around.

The innovation dynamic does not stop there. There are different battery structures and compositions for EVs, and improvements occurring within each of them. There are multiple processes for obtaining hydrogen to fuel hydrogen-powered vehicles, and many different types of hydrogen collection and processing. “Giga casting” is another new technology being used to reduce the weight of vehicle bodies, speed up manufacturing, and reduce defects. Generative AI is on the horizon for integration with existing vehicle computer systems and will bring with it risks and innovations for privacy, security, and accuracy.

Each new technology, will demand innumerable new standards that must be drafted and established to deal with operations of these vehicles and procedures and practices for charging, refueling, and co-existing with legacy vehicles on the road.  The entire state of the “future of vehicles” is in a notable state of flux. In addition, every innovation will need to be developed and protected.

Often, the protective hedge for inventions are patents, which have been used for centuries as a primary mechanism for securing exclusive rights to develop specific technologies. One question always arises – when and how do I file a patent application on my new invention(s)? As Clark Hill patent attorneys, we have helped answer this question for many years.

While all countries provide a patent system, only the United States offers provisional patent applications. The provisional patent application process allows an applicant to protect a “rough draft” of their invention for up to one year without filing a formal patent application (a “nonprovisional patent application,” to patent lawyers). This process gives the applicant the benefit of time to develop markets and conduct further research while knowing that the gist of the invention is secure from competitors.

The U.S. Patent system, consistent with other patent systems in the world today, is now a “first inventor to file” country.  That means that the first actual inventor that files a patent application in the U.S. Patent Office will be the owner of the resulting patent, and the second filer cannot obtain patent rights.  Therefore, if inventor B files a patent application just one day before inventor A, it is irrelevant that Inventor A actually invented first.  Therefore, the provisional patent application is often the best way to preserve that extremely valuable right. With a future in flux (and this seems especially so with regard to automobiles of the future), only a few days can make the difference between securing a stake in the future or being forced to wait on the sidelines when a competitor fences off a large piece of the technological frontier by filing a patent application and owning the innovation.

Intellectual Property attorneys at Clark Hill are seasoned patent lawyers with abundant experience filing provisional and nonprovisional patent applications.

This publication is intended for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or a solicitation to provide legal services. The information in this publication is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship. Readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional legal counsel. The views and opinions expressed herein represent those of the individual author only and are not necessarily the views of Clark Hill PLC. Although we attempt to ensure that postings on our website are complete, accurate, and up to date, we assume no responsibility for their completeness, accuracy, or timeliness.

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