3rd May 2017

Driverless vehicles will have to traverse a minefield of Intellectual Property issues before they arrive on the market if the Google/Uber legal stoush is anything to go by, says QUT IP law professor Matthew Rimmer who appeared before the Federal Parliament’s inquiry on autonomous vehicles in Brisbane today.

QUT Professor of Intellectual Property and Innovation Matthew Rimmer said the world of Knight Rider was upon us.

“Silicon Valley IT giants, ride-sharing ventures, and traditional car companies have heavily invested in self-driving car technologies. This intense competition and rivalry has spawned expensive lawsuits.

“Google’s driverless car company, Waymo, is suing Uber for allegedly stealing critical autonomous driving technology.

“Waymo has pleaded that Uber has engaged in patent infringement, trade secrets theft, and unfair competition.

“This mega-litigation may well rival the Apple/Samsung legal battle. The intellectual property dispute will help determine the growth, profitability, and survival of key firms in the coming years.”

Professor Rimmer said patent law provided exclusive rights in respect of scientific inventions.

“This IP dispute could have significant implications for competition in respect of autonomous vehicles,” he said.

“Given the wide range of competitors in the field of autonomous vehicles, patent law will play a significant role in mediating disputes and conflicts over priority ownership of technology.

“No doubt, we can expect patent legal action between car manufacturers and new technology companies, in regards to valuable patents, and trade secrets related to autonomous vehicles.

“As Tim Wilson noted in the inquiry, there will be complex issues regarding intellectual property and standard-setting in relation to autonomous vehicles.”

Professor Rimmer said the Australian Productivity Commission’s 2016 IP report had argued for a loosening of Australia’s patent system, which it said granted “exclusivity too readily”.

“The Commission noted that while patents could ‘encourage socially valuable innovation that would not otherwise have occurred’, they could also ‘stifle competition … leading to reduced innovation and excessive prices’ and ‘block subsequent innovators’,” he said.

“For emerging technologies such as autonomous vehicles, it is important, therefore, that the patent system promote high-quality innovation and competition policy.”

Professor Rimmer said there was already a pushback against the heavy use of patents in the automobile industry.

“Elon Musk has adopted an open innovation approach for Tesla Motors. He is willing to license patents in respect of his electric vehicles,” he said.

“Toyota has also discussed the use of open models for its hydrogen car.

“The attraction of open innovation is that it would help grow the clean technology vehicle market and competition against traditional vehicles.

“Some IP researchers have proposed ways to overcome the patent ‘gridlock’. The option of patent pools has been used to resolve the problem of fragmented, overlapping patent rights in certain crowded markets.

“Cross-licensing could be used in certain circumstances and public licensing is helpful in respect of inventions that have been publically funded.

“Compulsory licensing can be used to provide access to key inventions in return for compensation to the patent holder."

Media contact: Niki Widdowson, QUT Media, 07 313 2999 or n.widdowson@qut.edu.au.

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