Apple hiring big brains in car battery space

Fri Feb 20, 2015 6:00pm EST
 
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By Deepa Seetharaman and Paul Lienert

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A year and a half ago, Apple Inc (AAPL.O: Quote) had applied for just eight patents related to auto batteries. Recently, it has hired a bevy of engineers, just one of whom had already filed for 17 in his former career, according to a Thomson Reuters analysis.

The recent spate of hires and patent filings reviewed by Reuters shows that Apple is fast building its industrial lithium-ion battery capabilities, adding to evidence the iPhone maker may be developing a car.

Quiet, clean electric cars are viewed in Silicon Valley and elsewhere as a promising technology for the future, but high costs and "range anxiety", the concern that batteries will run out of power and cannot be recharged quickly, remain obstacles. Those challenges could also be seen as opportunities to find solutions to take the technology mainstream.

The number of auto-related patents filed by Apple, Google Inc (GOOGL.O: Quote), Korea's Samsung (005930.KS: Quote), electric carmaker Tesla Motors Inc (TSLA.O: Quote) and ride-sharing startup Uber tripled from 2011 to 2014, according to an analysis by Thomson Reuters IP & Science of public patent filings.

Apple has filed far fewer of these patents than rivals, perhaps adding impetus to its recent hiring binge as it seeks to get up to speed in battery technologies and other car-building related expertise.

As of 18 months ago, Apple had filed for 290 such patents. By contrast, Samsung, which has been providing electric vehicle batteries for some years, had close to 900 filings involving auto battery technology alone.

The U.S. government makes patent applications public only after 18 months, so the figures do not reflect any patents filed in 2014.

Earlier this month, battery maker A123 Systems sued Apple for poaching five top engineers. A search of LinkedIn profiles indicates Apple has hired at least another seven A123 employees and at least 18 employees from Tesla since 2012. [ID:nL1N0VT08B]   Continued...

 
Apple's Stephen Chick displays the CarPlay program at the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, California in this June 2, 2014 file photo.  REUTERS/Robert Galbraith