If you were reading other moto-news sites this week – first of all, shame on you – then you would have noticed much noise being made about Ford Motor Company applying for a patent on detection technology for when a motorcycle is lane-splitting between cars.
What you didn’t notice, along with those other publications, is that this is nothing new from Ford, as the American automobile manufacturer was already granted a patent for this technology over a year ago.
Much ado about nothing? Not quite, but the story isn’t remotely close to what was being reported elsewhere. In fact, this news of Ford’s lane-splitting patent strategy is much bigger, and much more important, than what has been in the media thus far.
To understand this, one has to ask themselves why Ford would want two different patents for essentially the same technology?
The two patents are very, very similar in their claims, graphics, and wording, but they use two different methods for detecting and tracking a potentially lane-splitting motorcycle, both visually and audibly (there is an argument here that loud pipes may in fact save lives after all).
A strong reason for all this is because Ford is attempting to corner the marketplace for detecting a lane-splitting motorcycle, nailing down as many variations on the detection technology that the USPTO will deem unique and legal. Hence, the second patent application.
This is a smart move by Ford, as autonomous vehicles can’t truly be autonomous if it lacks the ability to detect motorcycles lane-splitting next to them.
In the United States, this issue is real, but less of a concern, as it will only apply to drivers in California. Though, we should note that California is the largest automobile market in the United States.
However, Ford is surely going to apply these patents in foreign markets as well, through WIPO, where lane-splitting detection will be a more critical piece of technology.
Through a clever intellectual property strategy, Ford’s current patents, patent application, and likely future patents could corner the market on this core piece of technology, forcing other manufacturers to license Ford’s lane-splitting methods.
Conversely, Ford could hold onto the technology for itself, giving the American company a leg-up on the competition with its autonomous vehicle offerings.
Either way you look at it, there is a technology war going on right now, which is very quietly being fought behind the scenes for our roadways. In it, Ford just laid down a strong amount of covering fire, as it shifts its position. As such, it will be interesting to see how other brands respond.
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