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2010 Toyota Prius – Click above for high-res image gallery

The long-running legal battle between Toyota and Alex Severinsky over who "invented" a critical piece of hybrid technology is heading into a new phase. The automaker and the Russian engineer will be making their respective cases before International Trade Commission judge Theodore Essex to determine if Toyota can continue to import its hybrid vehicles into the United States.

A 2005 trial already ruled that Toyota was infringing on Severinsky's patent and ordered Toyota to pay royalties. Toyota is appealing the royalty judgment but the ITC has nothing to do with that. Instead, the ITC will decide if Toyota's imports are hurting Severinsky's domestic market and the public interest. The question is, "what is in the public interest?" This can be viewed in different ways. Is it more important to keep Toyota's hybrids flowing to market, preserving jobs at dealers and factories, or to protect Severinsky's intellectual property?

While we certainly think that there has been way too much litigation by patent trolls, especially with regard to software and business process patents, Severinsky is a very different case. Severinsky is actually the inventor, rather than just some holding company that buys up patents. As such, he should probably be protected. Toyota lost its case and should probably just pony up some royalties.

*UPDATE: Looks like Toyota and Severinsky have settled.

[Source: Bloomberg]


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 15 Comments
      • 2 Months Ago
      Has anyone read through the Severinsky patents and any of the claims/counter claims for this one?
      It seems like all we can do is debate the merits of our patent system here unless someone actually took the time to research this one.
        • 2 Months Ago
        This is the patent we're talking about

        http://www.google.com/patents/about?id=5g0eAAAAEBAJ&dq=Severinsky+hybrid

        The diagrams of the drive-train look nothing like the Toyota system. Severinsky even mentions specifically in his introductory materials that he wishes to avoid having two electric motors.
        • 2 Months Ago
        With the addition of a clutch and other components not found in the Toyota hybrid design, it isn't the same design, and I fail to see the infringement.

        Hmm, notice the patent date, September 6, 1994. Toyota was already in development at that time, and released the Prius for sale in Japan in 1997.
        • 2 Months Ago
        Yeah, the more I've been reading through this, the more I'm feeling like this is baseless. I think Toyota and Ford settled just to stop dealing with this guy and get on with life.

        I think we lean way too far in the direction of patents and they are granted way too freely and last far too long. Just my opinion, but the pendulum needs to swing back the other way because it is killing our ability to compete.

        Having a good idea should be rewarded with an advantage for some period of time, but it shouldn't be a license for a monopoly or a way to shut an industry down. Besides, I've rarely seen an idea that wasn't already in ten other people's mind.
      • 2 Months Ago
      It would truly be a tragedy for everyone (except perhaps Big US Auto) if an ITC ruling bans hybrid imports from Toyota. While I personally favor EV's over HEV's and even PHEV's, there is certainly some time to be bought and efficiency to be gained in the latter to technologies.

      For anyone interested, here's some discussion of where I think were going with regard to EV vs. ICE:

      http://2greenenergy.com/paradigm-shift/2668/

      I certainly hope that Theodore Essex bases his ruling on the genuine public interest and not on a narrow (and from the comments Good Cheer, Chris M and others, a quite debatable) intellectual property concern. At most, Toyota might justly be required to pay substantial royalties - even retroactively- and acknowledge any genuine value this man's research brought to their current offering, but that should be the maximum extent of their obligation.

      Craig Shields, Editor, 2GreenEnergy.com, and author, Renewable Energy - Facts and Fantasies (2010)
      • 2 Months Ago
      Hybrid Severinsky Drive, anyone? Guess that doesn't have the same ring to it... therefore Toyota payeth not.
      • 2 Months Ago
      I dislike the patent system a lot because it does a lot more damage than good and the patent clercs are not Einsteins anymore, rather retarded people who make no distinction between a brilliant invention and something totally trivial.
      as patents go this power split device is however among the more actual inventions with some intelligence behind it. and it seems to be fairly clear cut that toyota is using it.
      I seem to recall the story going that the patent holder even brought the invention to toyota back in the day to point out it was better than what they were using and so they started using it : )
      and I wouldn't be surprised if Toyota wasn't fighting this because they are greedy but because they are concerned about precedence because the patent system is a powder keg
        • 2 Months Ago
        What powder keg? Unless toyota ripped off a lot of other independent owners patents, it has nothing to worry about except paying royalties to this one guy.
        • 2 Months Ago
        I agree, software patents are worthless and physical product patents should be invalidated if you do not produce a product for sale... for example the NiMH patent that GM sold to chevron so they could end electric vehicle battery production.

        https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Nickel-metal_hydride_battery#Acquisition_by_Chevron_and_Cobasys
        • 2 Months Ago
        The heart of the Toyota hybrid system, the "power split device", is a simple planetary gear, and since planetary gears have been in use for a century or more it is in the public domain, thus not patentable.

        The story I heard was that Severinsky and Co. filed their patents after Toyota announced their hybrid plans in Japan and Severinsky learned of it, which would be typical of patent trolls. So which story is true?

        The undeniable facts are that the original Severinsky patent was to combine the output of two electric motors by a planetary gear to increase the speed range of EVs, and their "hybrid" patent came along later. It is also undeniable that they didn't actually manufacture anything for sale, nor do research and development for manufacturing, or even try to market to companies that could manufacture, they simply waited to sue someone who did, and was successful.
        • 2 Months Ago
        A powder keg for patent trolls that try to jump ahead of the curve by filing patents for the NEXT logical step in the progression of a vehicle's hybrid drive system.


        • 2 Months Ago
        it's not just a planet gear.
      • 2 Months Ago
      @ Chris M
      "7:21PM (7/19/2010)
      With the addition of a clutch and other components not found in the Toyota hybrid design, it isn't the same design, and I fail to see the infringement.

      Hmm, notice the patent date, September 6, 1994. Toyota was already in development at that time, and released the Prius for sale in Japan in 1997. "

      Have you ever actually tried to get a patent? Being an inventor myself I know how hard it is. Although the date of the actual patent may be Sept 6 1994, all patents must wait in a long long line to be validated as legitimate. In order for the patent date to be Sept 6 1994, he would have had a "pending patent" for at least 1 year, most likely 3+ years. It takes a well funded inventor 5-10 years to recieve a patent on something from the first chicken scratches of the idea. So although Toyota may have been researching this before the FULL patent date, he probably started with his idea around 1984. He probably applied for a patent around 1990, give or take a few years. Im certain toyota had no idea that hybrids were the future at that point in their career. Also in order to patent something, most of the time you need more than a chicken scratch. You need a prototype of some kind.
      • 2 Months Ago
      With all the shared hybrid patents between Ford and Toyota, one wonders if Ford is involved too.
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