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Innovation and intellectual leadership are integral threads in the fabric of any forward-looking company. Additionally, in a predominantly knowledge-based economy, such as what exists in the United States, intellectual property is an essential element of economic growth. General Motors weaves this belief into its daily work which drives the portrait of the automotive industry today and molds the future. Since 2003, GM U.S. published patent applications have steadily increased and doubled to more than 1,000 in 2008. GM currently has greater than 7,000 active pending and granted U.S. patents.
In fact, GM ranked first in the recent Automotive & Parts patent scorecard, which ranks 2007 patents, by IEEE Spectrum, besting its nearest competitor by nearly 50 points. IEEE is the world’s largest technical professional association. Additionally, The Patent Board’s Automotive & Transportation Patent Scorecard, originally published in January 2009 in the Wall Street Journal, ranks General Motors in the top five. Of the top five, GM had the highest Research Intensity score. The Research Intensity measure indicates the extent to which a portfolio includes patents with above-average science linkages. A higher score indicates that the company’s technology is closer to the cutting-edge than its competitors.
“Research and Development plays an important role in a technologically driven company,” says Alan Taub, executive director of GM Research & Development. “At General Motors we continually strive to meet technology’s challenges as well as spark what’s next on the automotive landscape. Patents alone are not a defining measure but they are an indicator of the pioneering technology, and innovation at GM where we are working to reinvent the automobile and, quite simply, make the world a better place.”
General Motors takes environmental responsibility seriously and actively engages in enacting solutions to increase sustainability and lower the automotive-related carbon footprint. In fact, about 40 percent of the more than 800 GM patent applications published in 2007 focused on green/environmental technologies. For instance, in the Homogeneous Charge Compression Ignition, which debuted as a concept in the Los Angeles Auto Show last year, the engine ignites a mixture of air and fuel by compressing it in the engine’s cylinders, without the aid of a spark plug. Although not yet ready for the roadways, when combined with other advanced gasoline engine technologies HCCI provides up to a 15 percent fuel savings for consumers as well as lowering emissions.
Innovation and invention inside one of the world’s largest automakers does not stand alone. The scientists at GM developed a complementary hybrid powertrain which further exploits the benefits of the aforementioned HCCI technology. The two technologies will provide a ‘double-green’ operating system for future cars and trucks.
Many motorists get charged up when it comes to hybrid-electric battery power. GM is leading this charge with a patented technology used to control batteries in hybrid electric vehicles. The technology predicts the amount of energy or state of charge, left in a battery while operating as well as its power capability, state of power, and whether it is doing well or nearing end of life, or the battery’s state of health. For example, when a driver comes up to a stop light in an HEV, the vehicle must determine whether to turn the engine off or keep it running. If the SOC and SOP are high enough, then the vehicle controller turns the engine off. GM has licensed this battery control patent to other automakers.
Not all green breakthroughs pertain to powertrains and emissions alone. Some of the greenest technologies come in another shade of green: advanced materials. GM currently uses the patented technology, to form complex body panels out of aluminum. The automaker developed a method to blow-form the aluminum metal much like polymer composite parts are formed. This technology of Quick Plastic Forming represents a quantum leap over the much slower process of Super Plastic Forming used in the past for aerospace applications. The significance of QPF is the ability to form body panels in complex shapes, at automotive cycle times, and simultaneously reduce vehicle mass through the use of lightweight aluminum, thus increasing fuel economy.
Automotive-related patents focus on many vehicle aspects including, but not limited to, safety, telematics and environmental technologies. Many of these industry-changing technologies are interrelated. For instance, GM has patented technologies in active fuel management, direct injection, powertrain control systems, and two-mode hybrid technology. While these naturally fall into the category of vehicle electronics, they are also green as these technologies are critical to producing energy efficient cars and trucks.
A leader in designing and developing technologies, GM has been defining the auto industry for 100 years and is committed to keep driving this effort. GM researchers, scientists and engineers are actively involved in developing technologies, many of which are patented, resulting in cleaner, safer, more energy efficient transportation that ultimately will benefit the environment and society. In its first 100 years of business, GM was granted more than 30,000 U.S. patents.