Autonomous vehicle technologies are anticipated to significantly decrease motor-vehicle accidents; however, they also present unique legal concerns that must be managed. Dickinson Wright works closely with clients to develop comprehensive plans for dealing with these issues.

Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) must abide by more stringent legal protections than just traditional product liability statutes; their software and algorithms require patent protection as well. Furthermore, some may fall under copyright, database rights or trade secret protection schemes.

Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) must abide by more stringent legal protections than just traditional product liability statutes.

Intellectual Property Litigation in the Autonomous Vehicle Industry

The automotive industry is undergoing a profound transformation with the emergence of autonomous vehicles. As self-driving cars become more prevalent, intellectual property (IP) litigation in this sector is on the rise.

The Growing Significance of IP in Autonomous Vehicles

In the fast-evolving world of autonomous vehicles, intellectual property has taken on a crucial role. It’s not just about making cars that can drive themselves; it’s about protecting the innovations that make it possible. Patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets all play a part in safeguarding the groundbreaking technologies at the heart of self-driving cars.

Challenges in Autonomous Vehicle IP Litigation

The uniqueness of the autonomous vehicle industry presents a multitude of challenges in IP litigation. This complexity arises from the convergence of various technological disciplines. Proving patent infringement or copyright violations in this context can be intricate, demanding a deep understanding of the underlying technologies and legal nuances.

Identifying Infringing Technologies

One of the first challenges is identifying infringing technologies. Autonomous vehicles incorporate a range of technologies, from sensor systems and artificial intelligence algorithms to communication networks. Finding the elements that infringe on existing patents or copyrighted code can be akin to finding a needle in a high-tech haystack.

Proving Infringement

Proving infringement is another formidable task. Autonomous vehicle technologies often involve intricate, interdependent systems. In court, it becomes imperative to establish a clear link between the alleged infringing technology and the claims of the IP holder. This demands sophisticated technical and legal expertise.

Defenses against Patent Infringement Claims

Autonomous vehicle manufacturers, when facing patent infringement claims, often resort to challenging the validity of the patents in question. They may argue that the technology in question was not novel or was obvious at the time of the patent filing. This strategy seeks to invalidate the patent claims and avoid infringement.

Strategies for Addressing IP Litigation

In this high-stakes landscape, both patent holders and manufacturers must employ sophisticated strategies to protect their interests.

Defensive Strategies for Manufacturers

Manufacturers can initiate prior art searches to uncover relevant prior inventions and potentially challenge the validity of the patents asserted against them. They can also explore the possibility of cross-licensing agreements to resolve disputes amicably and share intellectual property.

Offensive Strategies for Patent Holders

Patent holders must proactively protect their IP. Building a strong patent portfolio is essential to fend off potential infringement. By continuously monitoring the market for possible violations, they can take swift action against infringers, either through negotiation or litigation.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Given the complexity and cost of IP litigation, many parties involved in autonomous vehicle IP disputes opt for alternative dispute resolution methods. Mediation and arbitration can offer a less adversarial path to resolving these intricate issues, reducing legal costs and allowing for quicker resolution.

Recent Developments and Key Cases

The field of autonomous vehicle IP litigation is still in its infancy, but it’s evolving rapidly. Recent court cases and rulings, like Waymo v. Uber, demonstrate the significance of this issue. Courts are actively shaping the legal landscape for autonomous vehicles, impacting how companies protect their intellectual property.

Changing Legislation and Regulations

The intellectual property framework for autonomous vehicles is also influenced by changing legislation and regulations. Policymakers grapple with issues such as liability, data privacy, and cybersecurity, further complicating IP litigation in this space.

Emerging Trends in IP Litigation

As technology advances, new trends emerge in IP litigation. Issues like open-source software, standard-essential patents, and the overlap between software and hardware patents are becoming focal points for litigation. These trends reflect the evolving nature of autonomous vehicle technology and the associated IP concerns.

Utility Patents

Autonomous vehicle technology has seen an upsurge in patent filings, suggesting potential litigation issues as auto and technology industries strive to own key technologies and build their respective patent portfolios. Companies with sound intellectual property strategies may position themselves to lead this market and avoid possible lawsuits related to patent ownership disputes.

Patents offer inventors a period of exclusivity that’s short but invaluable compared to other forms of intellectual property, like any form of intellectual property. An inventor cannot make, sell or profit from their invention without permission during the term of an enforceable utility patent – for autonomous vehicle patents this means no other company can produce vehicles capable of functioning autonomously without being licensed under that patent.

Design patents protect only ornamental aspects of an invention; utility patents cover its function and structure – making them more difficult to design around than design patents. A competitor could make an unrelated product that looks different but still infringes the patent if its functional aspects match those of its patented invention.

Patents protect AV software and hardware components that are essential for operation, including software updates as well as hardware components that need protection from theft or vandalism. In order for an invention to qualify for patenting, certain criteria must be met – these include being useful, novel, non-obvious and suitable. During the application process, both applicant and examiner interact to review each step to make sure claims are clear, concise and not overbroad.

Utility patents may be granted on an invention as a whole or granted for specific parts of a larger system, as is often the case with autonomous vehicles (AVs), which contain numerous individual components like sensors, actuators and computers. Therefore, having an effective patent strategy that addresses each of these individual inventions is crucial.

Autonomous vehicles will require numerous new technologies to operate safely and efficiently, from sensory detection equipment to artificial intelligence that drives it. As autonomous vehicles become increasingly connected over mobile networks and form cohesive ecosystems, they may rely on technologies from traditionally non-automotive providers in order to connect and communicate; this increases their risk of standard essential patents (SEPs), which have caused litigation among cell phone, smartphone and computer manufacturers in the past.

Design Patents

As automotive technology becomes more incorporated, patent litigations are likely to involve design patents. Recent disputes between Apple and Samsung involve GUI patent assertions. With infotainment systems becoming increasingly important as traditional gauges give way to enhanced digital displays, design patent protection may help differentiate offerings while safeguarding investments.

IP licensing is another essential element of the global AV market, which makes its consideration essential. Each country has different IP laws and rules; companies that want to license IP in one country must ensure they obtain permission in all other locations where their AVs will be sold or operated.

Standard Essential Patents (SEPs) should also be taken into consideration by companies operating in the AV space, as they represent patents considered essential to particular standards and must be licensed on “fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory terms. As more AVs become connected with infrastructure via technologies like Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) or Infrastructure (V2I) communications standards become critical components, SEPs protecting these technologies will be vitally important components of an ecosystem supporting AVs.

Due to states and countries setting aggressive goals for AV sales and adoption, the AV market is quickly becoming an extremely competitive environment. Therefore, companies in this space must formulate and implement comprehensive intellectual property strategies to stay ahead of competitors.

Companies operating in the AV space must also consider product liability claims as part of their due diligence. A successful product liability lawsuit requires proof that product defects caused personal injuries or deaths; an alternative safer design would likely have prevented this situation.

Patent infringement risks in the automotive sector may also increase as more technology from suppliers outside the traditional automotive supply chain is utilized in the AV space, presenting risks from companies in other industries. A recent study indicated this as evidenced by litigations filed by non-practicing entities (NPEs). For instance, this trend could be explained by high tech companies entering the AV space with their extensive patent portfolios for consumer electronics technologies which may now extend to cover these technologies as they cross over into this new marketplace.


Autonomous vehicle development requires an array of technologies that must be protected through various intellectual property rights. Patents, copyrights and trade secrets all play an important role; manufacturers and technology companies should select an IP strategy to maximize protection from competitors and claims of infringement.

As inventions associated with autonomous vehicles (AVs) often include devices not traditionally associated with automobiles such as advanced sensors and cameras, radar and LIDAR technologies, artificial intelligence algorithms, communications mechanisms allowing vehicle-to-vehicle communication or vehicle-to-infrastructure interaction, etc.; filing separate patent applications may be necessary in addition to filing utility or design patent applications for these innovations.

Patents grant inventors exclusive commercial exploitation rights over their inventions by providing exclusive rights of commercial exploitation that exclude others from making, using, offering for sale or selling or importing them into the US. But patents can come with some risks in the automotive industry: holders are required to disclose information about their inventions to the public and this could open them up to claims from third parties who independently developed similar or identical technologies.

Patent applications also contain stringent language requirements, mandating that applicants use language that would be understood by skilled practitioners in order to adequately describe the inventive concept being described. Unfortunately, this often leads to disputes over what counts as an invention and whether certain claims can be patentable.

As the AV industry develops, patent issues will likely become litigated in court as more AV products interact with industries like telecom, energy and cellular infrastructure that can impact how they communicate between each other and with their surrounding environments. Recent UK litigation in Unwired Planet v Huawei as well as US cases such as TCL v Ericsson and Huawei v Samsung can provide insight into how courts will treat these matters.

As a final point, many AV companies operate across multiple jurisdictions, making international licensing of patents an integral component of their IP strategies. Unfortunately, however, different countries often have different laws and regulations concerning IP. Therefore, making sure licensing agreements reflect each country’s nuances can help avoid costly disputes down the road.


Autonomous vehicles include many innovative forms of technology not commonly found in traditional cars, including image recognition systems, Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technologies, artificial intelligence algorithms and connectivity mechanisms for vehicle connectivity. Such innovative devices and processes frequently require some form of intellectual property protection in the form of patents to ensure they remain proprietary.

Though patents remain the cornerstone of autonomous vehicle (AV) IP protection strategies, other forms of intellectual property are becoming more prominent within this new industry. Trademarks, copyrights and design rights all play an integral part in maintaining brand identities for specific products within this segment of intellectual property protection strategies for autonomous vehicles (AV).

IP disputes within the audio visual (AV) industry have become more frequent as its expansion continues, due to new technology being created at an increasing pace, making patent applications become obsolete quickly upon being issued. Furthermore, its global nature makes AV industry vulnerable to patent infringement lawsuits as new players enter with proprietary technology of their own.

Licensing issues surrounding AVs can be further complicated by their complex technology with far-reaching social implications, so an appropriate licensing strategy may prioritize broader access of this technology for public benefit over any potential profits earned through licensing deals.

Startups must remain mindful of any possible ethical consequences when devising their AV IP licensing strategy, particularly where this includes data collection or processing activities that must comply with local data privacy norms.

Additionally, the global nature of AV industry makes it more susceptible to antitrust issues. This is particularly relevant for startups with Standard-Essential Patents (SEPs) as their licensing terms must not breach antitrust law by providing preferential treatment to certain entities or limiting participation by others; such behaviors are usually prohibited under antitrust law and could have serious repercussions for its viability in the AV industry.