When we hear talk of the most innovative car company, Tesla Motors often comes to mind. After all, the 18-year-old U.S. electric car manufacturer produces high-tech vehicles with 17-inch dashboard touchscreens, sensor-based driver-assistance features, an industry-leading battery platform, and eye-popping acceleration.
But by the standard measure of innovation — number of patents — Tesla doesn’t even come close to the industry leaders.
One estimate by British intellectual property firm Venner Shipley put the number of “Tesla Inc.” or “Tesla Motors” patent applications at about 900 from 2006 to 2020. Tesla’s website lists 361 patents that are currently used in its vehicles (not all patents end up being applied to final products). Compare that to Ferrari, which added more than 1,200 patents in the past decade for autonomous-driving technology alone.
Thanks to their size and scalability, global automotive manufacturers are by far the leaders in vehicle innovation, and the number of patents they’re filing has been growing over the past decade as they focus on developing driverless and electric-vehicle technologies.
Led by Toyota, the top 10 most innovative vehicle manufacturers have filed 1.25 million patents since 2011. Big names including Volkswagen, Honda, and Ford each submit well over 100,000 patent filings annually. (See where these and other companies rank on this list of new car brands ranked from best to worst.)
Not all of these patents are related to self-driving and electric cars, of course. Automakers are constantly making improvements to the existing technology in their large inventory of models and vehicle types, while also focusing on patents for the cars of tomorrow, which helps explain why they file so many intellectual property claims. (For a contrasting look into the automotive past, see these 37 amazing-looking cars from bygone times.)
To develop a list of the most innovative car companies, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed a recent analysis of Google Patents data by the British car dealership network Bristol Street Motors. The research focused on 17 major car brands, revealing the number of cumulative patents, automotive patents, electric vehicle-related patents, and patents related to autonomous driving technology over the past decade (2011-2020). Numbers for all patent types are not available for all 17 brands. Car makers are listed alphabetically.
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