Yesterday I reported on a survey by KPMG suggesting that the automotive industry sees great promise in consumer demand for hybrid and other alternative fuel vehicles, and that the industry plans to build and promote more hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles over the next 5 years.

Today comes another story that puts a little meat on those bones. According to a study by Thomson Reuters, alternative power and pollution control have become the biggest source of patent activity in the automotive industry, surpassing perennial leaders such as engine design, braking systems and safety in 2009. Together they accounted for 23% of the patents issued within the automotive industry last year, with alternative power accounting for 14% and pollution control accounted for another 9%.

The report notes that "Only unique patent inventions were counted, providing the truest picture of innovation activity."

While it is too soon to tell whether any of these patents represent significant technological breakthroughs, the trend is encouraging. Obtaining patents is an expensive and time-consuming process. The issuance of patents in the areas of alternative power and pollution control means, at a minimum, that the automotive industry is serious about these technologies. It also suggests that the industry has been shifting R&D money to these areas for some time.

The Thomson Reuters study, 2009 Innovation Report: Twelve Key Industries and Their States of Innovation, tracks unique inventions in granted patents and published applications within 12 key industries. Click here to gain access to the full report.

John Howley
Orlando, Florida

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