Friday, June 21, 2013

Tesla Battery Swapping Technology

We've been watching the patents in the Green Technology space for quite some time.  One of the more interesting sets of patent grants are the patents awarded to Tesla and Better Place during the USPTO Green Technology Pilot Program.

Tesla received free accelerated examination for an invention that improve the handling of an electric vehicle.  A curious award under the program.  USPTO determined that improving the driving experience of an electric vehicle would make the products more attractive to the driving public.  More electric cars, less air pollution and lower fuel consumptions so it's green.  (Tesla received US Patent  7,741,750, “Induction motor with improved torque density.”)

Better Place received a series of patents on their battery swapping system.  We watch the electric vehicle market and watched as all electric vehicles were rejected by regional taxi authorities because of the risk of passengers being stranded in their taxi if a battery died and the limited driving range of an EV, not to mention the potential for passenger anxiety based on the possibility of either of these happening while you are trying to catch a flight at one of the outside of town airports.  Rapid battery charging seemed like an answer to this problem.  It also seemed like a good "go-to-market" strategy since you could equip all kinds of places where taxi's hang out waiting (airports, bus stations, train stations, hotel parking garages, shopping centers) with the battery swapping locations rather than having to establish a full blown commercial network out of the box.

Better Place adopted the modified propane gas tank business model.  Bring your empty back and we'll swap it out to a full one.  Just pay for the full one.  The Better Place model was that they owned the batteries and you paid a use fee to have them swapped.

(Here are a few of the Better Place Patents:   7993155,  80067938035341.  There are more.)

Now Tesla has adopted the battery swap approach with a slightly different version of the propane tank model - $60-$80 a swap close to the cost of a current tank of gas.  It makes sense.  We surveyed the troops and there was consensus that if you can't hit the road and make it from DC to NYC with only one quick stop for a fill-up and a bathroom break it's a deal breaker.  There are no rest stops on that route that are worth wasting an hour of your life while you wait for your car to recharge.  (We watched the Phil Lebeau redo of the NYTime DC to Boston test and saw his getting stranded anxiety and he had a chase car with camera men.)  The battery swap option solved the NJ Turnpike conundrum.

It will be interesting to see how the battery swapping patent game plays out.  Better Place filed for liquidation.  Their patent portfolio may turn out to be an important part of their liquidation strategy shifting the company from an operating entity to a non-practicing entity by virtue of their liquidation request.  It may be interesting see if one of the other major holders of intellectual property, operating companies like Ford or NPEs like Acacia or IV step in to acquire the patents.  It might depend on their forward looking perspective on where the EV market is heading.

This is an area to watch from a green tech adoption perspective, from a patent perspective, and from a general interest on whether Elon Musk will be able to move Tesla into the mainstream rather than a play car parked in front of five star hotels and The Palm.  Right now there is nothing interesting enough to warrant hanging out at a rest stop/charging station on I-95 for an hour or more waiting for the car to charge.

We'll be adding our new and improved Green Tech analysis.  In the meantime learn more about the USPTO Green Technology Pilot Program and Way Better Patents report at