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Samsung has accumulated an immense collection of automotive patents over the past 25 years, leading some to wonder what the company’s plans are for the automotive industry.
To assess where the industry may be heading, a Forbes research team searched automotive-related patents filed by Samsung, Google, Apple, Tesla and Uber between 1990 and 2014. Their analysis revealed that of the 4,761 total patents filed, Samsung’s named appeared on more than 60 percent.
“While we’ve yet to hear any rumors about a Samsung Galaxy car, the company has far and away the largest and broadest collection of patents in the automotive field, including a very large interest in batteries and fuel cells for next generation vehicles,” said Forbes. “For the total time period studied, we found 3,094 auto-related patents registered to Samsung, 632 of which were issued in 2014 alone.”
When counting only patents from last year, in comparison to Samsung’s 632, Google acquired 147, Tesla received 101 and Apple had 78.
The bulk of the connections linking Samsung to the automotive industry center on batteries for electrified vehicles. This division of Samsung has continued to expand – February’s purchase of Magna Steyr, for example, will increase the company’s battery pack production in North America, Europe and China.
Samsung has also been collaborating with the R&D team at Ford Motor Company. Together, they are developing a lithium-ion battery that connects to a 12-volt lead acid battery, creating a hybrid system with regenerative braking that could be added to non-hybrid vehicles.
But Samsung’s patents extend beyond battery technology.
“In the patent applications published through the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office as well as the Korea Intellectual Property Rights Information Service,” reported The Wall Street Journal in 2013, “Samsung submitted applications for new technologies needed in making auto parts that can be used in electric vehicles. These cover technology patents for tires, motors, as well as on-board electronics for information sharing between the car and driver.”
There is no buzz suggesting that Samsung may be building its own EV (unlike the rumors surrounding Apple), but there are an increasing amount of opportunities for a tech company within the automotive industry.
“Should the world enter an era of electric vehicles, the borderlines between auto makers and electronics companies will be blurred,” said Jae H. Lee, an analyst for Japanese investment firm Daiwa Securities.
Fuel Cell Tech
As part of its technology roadmap, Samsung said it is planning to release a lithium-air fuel cell battery around 2020. But little else has been heard of the company’s fuel cell project, which reportedly stalled last year.
“Samsung SDI’s next-generation ‘fuel cell project’ business is facing a shutdown,” wrote Business Korea in June 2014. “Some even speculate that Samsung SDI will permanently relinquish the project altogether.”
When questioned about why the company hasn’t released any fuel cell products, Samsung representative Seo Hae-Su said, “We are focusing more on R&D for fuel cell projects,” and “The major businesses of Samsung SDI are secondary cell batteries for cars, energy storage systems, and compact-sized batteries.”
It doesn’t appear, for now, that Samsung is developing any systems related to self-driving vehicles.
“While Samsung appears to be focused most intently on battery and fuel cell technology, Google, by contrast, has been focused most recently on autonomous driving technology, driver assistance and entertainment,” said Forbes.
Photo credit: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg