Samsung emerges as Apple's chief auto rival

In a knot of rumor and speculation over the recent weeks, the possibility of Apple producing its own electric car is one of the most examined auto industry stories in recent memory. There are no hard facts about the proposed vehicle yet, but even if the brand Steve Jobs built just wants a bigger piece of the vehicle battery market, the company might find a surprise competitor in Samsung.

Thomson Reuters recently took a look at 4,761 automotive-related patents from 1990 to 2014 from Google, Samsung, Tesla and Uber to examine Apple's position in the field. All five have been rapidly increasing filings in recent years to protect their discoveries, but among them Samsung has been especially putting its focus on the car business since 2010. In 2014 alone, the Korean brand registered over 600 patents, compared to around 100 from some its competitors.

Samsung registered 3,094 auto-related patents between 1990 and 2014, and recently it has been focusing on battery and fuel cell technology. The emphasis makes sense because innovations in the field might be applied to the Korean brand's other businesses like for phones.

Apple meanwhile holds just 275 auto-related patents, according Thomson Reuters, and the brand's priority has been on device integration, navigation and electronic communication in the past few years. Although, there are surprisingly few for battery tech, which could explain allegations of poaching employees from A123 Systems.

The investigation also throws fuel on the fire for the argument that Apple should buy Tesla if the tech giant wants into the auto business because the two complement each other nicely. The EV company holds more patents in batteries, where Apple is currently weak. However, the iPhone maker has vastly more reserves in device integration and electronic communication. "A merged Apple/Tesla would allow the combined company to compete on a level patent related field with Google," says one slide in the study.

Speculation about the Apple car isn't likely to end until the vehicles hit showrooms, if that ever happens. Still, evaluations like this provide an interesting view into the increasing importance of tech in the industry. Read the full study in the gallery below.

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