It’s been a damn good year for Ford. From taking Transit vans and customizing them into portable work and play stations to studying the Gecko in order to better understand adhesives or teaming-up with Gorilla Glass to make the GT supercar you see here even stronger and lighter, there is a lot to be said for the brain department over at the Blue Oval.
The hits just keep on coming too. A press release from Ford states that its employees “delivered so many new inventions this year that the company has achieved a record number of new patents.” With Ford Smart Mobility and other unique initiatives accelerating the pace of innovation faster than you can say “EcoBoost,” the creative minds over at Ford submitted nearly 6,000 new inventions in 2015 alone. Many of these designs are directly related to autonomous and connected vehicles, wearable devices, eBikes, navigation, ride-sharing platforms, and other tech-related advancements, showing an increase of 36% over what was submitted this time last year.
“Our engineers and scientists are inventing ways to address mobility challenges more than ever — with more patent applications filed this year on car-sharing, wearables, bikes, cloud computing and in other areas to improve consumers’ lives inside and outside the car,” said Ford executive vice president and chief technical officer Raj Nair in a statement. “By hosting — and participating in — more internal hackathons and innovation labs, our employees are stepping up to show that inventing is a priority for leadership in the industry.”
Circling closely around the Ford Smart Mobility plan, the company has a goal in place to “use innovation in order to ascend to the next level in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, the customer experience, and data and analytics.” According to Ford’s report, 2015’s record-breaking number of inventions focus primarily on thousands of technologies that enable advancements in connectivity, analytics, wearables, electrification, and safety. Suggesting a safe vehicle speed based on nearby infrastructure would be a good example of a potential patent, along with a new front brake light technology that would improve vehicle-to-vehicle and autonomous driving-to-pedestrian communication.
“The commitment Ford has made to innovation is commendable,” says James Malackowski, chairman and CEO of Ocean Tomo, an intellectual property firm. “The strength of Ford’s patent portfolio has resulted in the company being named a constituent to the Ocean Tomo 300 Patent Index for five years.”
But this isn’t just about what is going on over in Detroit: Hundreds of Ford employees around the world are also responsible for this latest achievement. In the past three years, Ford employees in Asia Pacific alone have increased invention disclosure submissions by more than 140%, with North America as runner-up with almost 100%, and Europe hitting a respectable 50% for third. To illustrate its creative prowess, Ford recently showcased some of its patent portfolio by licensing out robotic test driving technology in order to both save time and protect human test drivers from potentially harmful tasks like driving over curbs and through potholes in order to prove a vehicle’s durability.
Electrification patents have also increased, with nearly a 200% jump in the past five years alone serving as proof, and in 2014, Ford filed for more than 400 patents dedicated to electric vehicle technologies. But the automaker isn’t being stingy either, and in an unprecedented display of good will earlier this year, Ford opened up its portfolio of electrified vehicle technology patents for licensing to competitive automakers in the hopes of accelerating industry-wide research and development.
Prior technological patents that are worth noting include Ford’s turbocharged EcoBoost engine lineup, all of which earned the automaker 275 U.S. patents, with another 200 pending. Ford reportedly admits to having more U.S. patents on turbocharged direct-injection technology than any other automaker today, and with more buyers than ever before allowing turbos to serve as a replacement for displacement, it is no wonder that Ford continues to lead the way in this segment.
Another notable step in the ingenuity department from this year comes in the form of one of the first articles I ever wrote for The Cheat Sheet: Ford’s invested interest in making cars out of carbon fiber, and the kind of resources and machinery required to do so on a large scale. Henry Ford was labeled as crazy for his proposed “assembly line” back in the day, and look where that got him. Oh, and as for old man Ford himself, he went on to earn more than 150 patents in his lifetime.