With autonomous vehicles becoming more prevalent, the in-car experience is being fundamentally altered. Startups interested in entering this sector should prioritize patent protection to secure their innovations.
Patentable technologies that monitor passenger stress levels to adjust seat configurations or ambient temperatures could include technologies that monitor their stress levels to modify seat configurations or temperature accordingly, voice activation technology that caters to individual user preferences could also warrant patenting consideration.
Design patents are essential to improving ride comfort and ergonomics in automated driving vehicles, especially as the industry evolves towards Level 2 and then Level 3 automation (SAE International defines these levels as vehicles in which human drivers may step in when necessary to take over control). Multiple seat patents have already been granted which aim to make it easier and more comfortable for passengers during automated driving.
Design patent applications follow similar steps as utility patent applications; both parties involved must submit detailed drawings as part of their applications, with surface shading used to help viewers better comprehend an object’s contours and clarity sufficient for anyone familiar with art and design to comprehend what the invention is and how it functions.
Recently, the percentage of patent applications granted design patents has slowly increased; however, they still fall far too low when compared with utility patent applications. One cause may be that many patent practitioners focus solely on securing utility patents for functional innovations rather than protecting valuable appearance rights with design patents.
To obtain a design patent, an applicant must file a complete application with the USPTO along with all filing fees and a declaration or oath from an expert familiar with its subject matter. Once filed, their application will be assigned an examiner who will ensure all formalities have been fulfilled while also comparing it against prior art.
Once an examiner approves of an application for a design patent, he or she will grant one and send out a notice of allowance to the applicant. From then onward, the design patent will last fifteen years from its date of allowance without needing maintenance payments. Utility patents typically last seventeen years from their date of issuance and require annual maintenance fees payment in order to remain active.
For those seeking a design patent, the USPTO provides a “divided application” process which enables applicants to file one application with multiple claims – this enables the Examiner to review each claimed embodiment individually and determine which are patentable; which should issue; or which should be prosecuted as separate divisional applications.
Notably, unlike utility patents that have a statutory term of twenty years from their issuance date, design patents only last for fourteen years from when issued. Thus, when seeking design patent protection for an autonomous vehicle innovation it’s wise to plan ahead when seeking design patent protection for it and ensure the term coincides with your anticipated launch date of your AV innovation.
Utility patents offer broad protection for inventions’ structures, processes and methods of manufacture; software that makes an AV work; user interfaces and data processing techniques. Securing one requires conducting extensive research into your innovation – with clear drawings depicting its components as well as providing an explanation for how they function – but an experienced patent attorney can assist in developing a comprehensive IP strategy including both types of patents.
Patent claims outline the scope and limits of its protection, while competitors must abide by all limitations to avoid infringing it, otherwise known as infringing. A strong patent provides its owner protection from imitation of his/her innovation by third parties as well as encouraging investment into new technologies; licensing can provide revenue streams to support business.
The USPTO grants utility patents to anyone who has created something that is novel and useful, whether that is a product, machine, manufacture or composition of matter; or an improvement thereof. A utility patent gives its creator exclusive commercial rights for 20 years after submission of his or her invention.
Patent attorneys and their clients can secure utility patents by filing an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Typically, an application should include clear drawings of their invention as well as textual and tabular descriptions of all its novel and beneficial aspects.
Once approved by the USPTO, an inventor can seek to license their patent as a way of offsetting some of the costs involved in applying for one; licensing can provide a revenue stream and may help offset ongoing expenses associated with patent pursuing, which usually takes two to five years to complete. Or they could protect their invention through design patenting in order to keep others from manufacturing, selling or using it without their permission – or both! The USPTO offers helpful guidance for selecting an appropriate patenting option for any invention. Click here to read their advice on selecting an effective solution.
Apple’s patent filing for an autonomous vehicle (AV) in September 2016 described a system to tailor an AV’s driving style according to passenger preferences. Facial recognition would enable it to identify passengers and learn their preferences regarding acceleration, braking and turning (within safe limits). Once collected this data would be stored into a passenger profile for future rides.
In addition to satisfying novelty and utility criteria, the USPTO also requires that an invention not be anticipated by existing technologies and remain non-obvious. Therefore, conducting a patent search before submitting your invention for consideration is highly advised – they offer an online database for searching prior art that you can search here.
Ride comfort can be measured subjectively as the subjective feeling of ease or enjoyment associated with vehicle operation, including both its physical and psychological components (Kudritzki 1999). Physical components include vibrations, forces on the body, seat design and positioning whereas psychological ones refer to expectations about how well a vehicle fulfils those expectations.
Regarding ride comfort associated with autonomous driving, it is noteworthy that marketing these functions as “comfort” rather than safety systems reflects an understanding that people expect to be able to relax in the driver’s seat and use their time while the vehicle is on the road for other activities. At the same time, however, sudden accelerations or jerks may cause discomfort even for only brief moments of exposure.
Additionally, many AD functions have their own trademarks; therefore it’s crucial that customers understand exactly which functionality an auto OEM or supplier claims they offer them.
Strategies for Patenting Ride Comfort Innovation
In the ever-evolving landscape of autonomous vehicles, the quest for patenting ride comfort innovations takes center stage. Autonomous vehicles promise a transformative shift in transportation, with an emphasis on passenger experience. Ensuring that your innovations in ride comfort are not only groundbreaking but also adequately protected through patents is crucial.
1. Conduct a Thorough Prior Art Search
Before diving into the patenting process, it’s essential to embark on a comprehensive prior art search. This step is foundational to understand the existing state of the art, identify potential infringements, and establish the novelty and inventiveness of your innovation. Utilize specialized patent databases, such as the USPTO, WIPO, and Google Patents, for a meticulous search. Collaborating with a skilled patent attorney or agent is highly recommended to ensure an exhaustive search and to interpret the results effectively.
2. Identify Unique and Innovative Solutions
In the pursuit of a patent, the core requirement is that your innovation must be unique and non-obvious. It’s essential to identify solutions that genuinely enhance ride comfort while avoiding redundancy with existing patents. Consider various facets of ride comfort, including suspension systems, seat designs, noise reduction technologies, and even active vibration control as potential areas for innovation. The key is to offer a distinct approach that stands out in the autonomous vehicle landscape.
3. Begin with a Provisional Patent Application
In the fast-paced realm of autonomous vehicles, where technology is rapidly evolving, filing a provisional patent application is a pragmatic first step. This approach grants you a one-year window to further refine and develop your innovation while securing an early filing date. Provisional patents provide flexibility and serve as a useful buffer to navigate the iterative process of invention.
4. Draft a Detailed and Comprehensive Patent Application
Collaborate closely with a proficient patent attorney to draft a comprehensive patent application that leaves no room for ambiguity. Your application should effectively encapsulate your innovation, using detailed descriptions, drawings, flowcharts, and any other relevant materials to clarify the invention. It’s imperative to write the application broadly enough to encompass potential variations and improvements related to ride comfort.
5. Consider Utility Patents
Utility patents are the most common type of patent and are particularly relevant when seeking protection for innovations in autonomous vehicles that involve new and useful processes, machines, articles of manufacture, or compositions of matter. Ride comfort enhancements often fit under this category, particularly those related to the design and operation of vehicle components.
6. Explore the Potential of Design Patents
For innovations in ride comfort that have a significant aesthetic or ornamental aspect, consider the option of design patents. These patents protect the visual and aesthetic aspects of your innovation, such as the design of vehicle interiors, seats, and control interfaces. If your innovation incorporates unique and visually pleasing design elements that contribute to ride comfort, a design patent might be a valuable addition to your patent portfolio.
7. Safeguard Your Intellectual Property with Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs)
Before discussing your ride comfort innovation with potential partners, investors, or collaborators, it is prudent to have them sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). These legally binding agreements ensure that sensitive information remains confidential, protecting your intellectual property from potential leaks or unauthorized use.
8. Embrace Licensing and Collaboration
Licensing your patented ride comfort technology to other automotive companies keen on enhancing the ride experience in their autonomous vehicles can be a prudent strategy. This not only diversifies your revenue streams but also broadens the reach and adoption of your innovation. Collaboration with research institutions, universities, and experts in the field can further develop and validate your technology, ultimately strengthening your patent position.
9. Craft a Global Patent Strategy
Given the global nature of the autonomous vehicle industry, it’s prudent to devise an international patent strategy. Filing patents in multiple countries ensures your innovation is protected on a global scale. The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) provides a streamlined process for international patent filing, facilitating global protection for your intellectual property.
10. Vigilant Patent Enforcement and Monitoring
After your patents are granted, maintaining a vigilant eye on the market is essential. Actively monitor for potential infringements and collaborate closely with your legal team to enforce your patents and protect your rights. Be prepared to take legal action when necessary to defend your patents against infringement.
11. Regularly Review and Update Your Patent Portfolio
The autonomous vehicle landscape is in a perpetual state of flux, with new developments and innovations emerging frequently. To ensure the continued relevance and effectiveness of your patent portfolio, regular review and updates are indispensable. This proactive approach will help you stay ahead in protecting your ride comfort innovations.
The pursuit of patenting ride comfort innovations in the context of autonomous vehicles is not only a matter of safeguarding your intellectual property but also a strategic move to establish a robust competitive advantage. These strategies provide a comprehensive roadmap for navigating the intricate world of autonomous vehicle patents while ensuring that your ride comfort innovations stand out, are protected, and potentially contribute to the evolution of this groundbreaking industry. Consulting with a seasoned patent attorney or agent, particularly one with expertise in the automotive field, is highly recommended to traverse the patenting process expertly and effectively. Ride comfort innovations are poised to play a pivotal role in the future of autonomous vehicles, and securing your position through patenting is a smart and forward-thinking endeavor.