The Rise of Self-Driving Cars and Patents

Sep 17, 2019

In our technologically advanced world, self-driving cars (also known as autonomous vehicles) are on the rise. With more companies than ever competing to be the first to successfully put these cars on the road and make them available to the masses, we’ll take a look at how autonomous vehicle technology has evolved and the role that patents played in getting us here. 

The History

The presence and prominence of self-driving cars may seem like an idea that has suddenly arrived out of the plot of a futuristic science fiction movie. However, self-driving vehicles are anything but new. There were a few key concepts and contributors that formed the groundwork for the modern day autonomous vehicle. One of the first was the Linrrican Wonder, a car that was radio controlled, and didn’t have a driver. After that, the first real dream of a self-driving car society was thought up by Norman Bel Geddes, who had a vision of the future with grand highways and cars that drove on their own. This concept was later brought to life by General Motors at the 1939 World’s Fair in an exhibit called Futurama, which depicted a dream society a few decades in the future. (An ambitious projection, to be sure.) Another important figure in self-driving car history is a robotics professor at Carnegie Mellon, named William ‘Red’ Whittaker, who created a robot with wheels called Terragator in the 1980’s that he tested around the school’s campus. Many of his students went on to continue the efforts toward self driving car technology in our modern world.                                      

The Patents

The prominence of tech giants like Google, Tesla and Uber here in the United States has spurred a major conversation around self-driving cars. However, you may be surprised to learn that we have not filed the most patents for self-driving cars. In other parts of the world, patents for autonomous vehicles are already booming. Leading the pack are companies in Germany such as Bosch, Audi and Continental, who collectively filed 5,839 patents related to autonomous driving from 2010 to 2017, according to PATENTSCOPE data from the World Intellectual Property Organization. In the United States, there are currently over 4,300 patents that use the phrase ‘autonomous vehicle.’ This number is expected to rise, of course, as self-driving cars come more into the forefront with rising technology.              

The Parameters

Part of the potential problem with developing self-driving cars in the United States is gaining public trust. Exhaustive regulations need to be passed in order for them to be considered safe on the road. Governing legislation, most likely under the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Safety Administration, will be enacted similar to the safety regulations we have come to expect from our vehicles today. Currently, those governing bodies only have guidelines about autonomous vehicles, and cities are primarily responsible for regulating the testing sites. Hazards and accidents demonstrate further need for these regulations. For example, one woman in Arizona died from an accident involving a self-driving car in 2018. That same year, 15 states enacted 18 autonomous vehicle related bills


If you’d like to be a part of the future of driving and have a patent idea you need to research, Global Patent Solutions can help you. As experienced patent professionals, we can help you drive your dreams forward. Contact us today.  



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