Ford’s U.S. patent total tops competitors

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. said Friday its employees have been granted 1,442 U.S. patents so far this year, more than any other major automaker.

eChair is a lightweight electric wheelchair with a self-loading solution designed to offer greater independence to people with reduced mobility.

Ford, citing U.S. Patent and Trademark Office utility patent data, said patent awards to Ford employees are up 25 percent from 2015 and represent the most patents submitted in the automaker’s 113-year history. Globally, Ford has been issued about 3,200 patents this year.

The company says one of its patented inventions this year would equip self-driving cars with drones. The self-driving vehicle sends a drone to map areas surrounding the vehicle beyond what sensors can detect. Passengers in the autonomous car would be able to control the drone using the vehicle’s infotainment or navigation system, Ford said.

“At Ford we are fully engaged in the current climate where inventions and out-side-the-box thinking are being produced rapidly,” Tony Lockwood, Ford manager of virtual driver system and autonomous vehicle development, who was granted the patent with a colleague, said in a statement. “Ultimately, customers benefit as we open ourselves to new ideas and advance mobility using emerging technologies.”

In addition to carrying riders, Carr-E can be used to transport heavy objects. Users simply place the object on the device and it will follow an electronic transmitter they keep in their possession.

General Motors Co. through early December this year has been granted 1,131 utility patents, Toyota Motor Corp. 1,368 and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. 1,011, according to U.S. Patent and Trademark data. The U.S. also awards design, plant and other patents.

The Dearborn automaker said Ford employees worldwide have made 8,000 inventions so far this year, up 40 percent from 2015 and 90 percent from 2014. Many are first-time inventors, the company said.

“We are living the innovation mindset in all parts of our business across the globe,” Raj Nair, executive vice president of Ford’s product development and chief technical officer, said in a statement. “Our employees are delivering exciting new technologies for our customers at record levels. As an auto and mobility company, this is an exciting time, and our employees are aggressively advancing emerging technologies and increasing our mobility patents at record levels.”

Among other highlighted Ford inventions are the eChair, a lightweight electric wheelchair that can load by itself into a car that was developed by engineers at the automaker’s proving grounds in Belgium; the Carr-E, an electric personal transportation device, developed by a German Ford systems engineer, that also can move packages and heavy items and On-the-Go H2O, that gathers vehicle condensation, filters the fluid and pumps it into a faucet in the car for drinking water.

Ford’s prototype On-the-Go H2O system collects, filters and pumps water directly to a faucet hanging over the cupholders.

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