Toyota has announced at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas that it has released all of its 5,680 patents for its fuel cell technology in an effort to encourage other automakers to develop their own fuel cell vehicles.

Following in the footsteps of electric car maker Tesla, which opened up its patents for electricity-powered vehicles with lithium ion batteries in "good faith" in June, Toyota says it is allowing every interested party to make royalty-free use of its thousands of patents related to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles from 2015 through 2020, which it anticipates as the critical market introduction period.

Among the patents include 3,350 licenses for fuel cell system control technology, 1,970 for fuel cell stacks and 290 for high-pressure oxygen tanks. Toyota is making available approximately 70 patents related to the construction and operation of hydrogen-refilling stations to encourage the installation of infrastructure needed to support the expansion of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

"At Toyota, we believe that when good ideas are shared, great things can happen," says Toyota vice president of automotive operations Bob Carter. "The first generation hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, launched between 2015 and 2020, will be critical, requiring a concerted effort and unconventional collaboration between automakers, government regulators, academia, and energy providers."

"By eliminating traditional corporate boundaries, we can speed the development of new technologies and move into the future of mobility more quickly, effectively, and economically," Carter adds.

Toyota's announcement follows its introduction of its first fuel cell car powered entirely by hydrogen. The Toyota Mirai, which name stands for "future" in English, was launched in November last year in Japan and will be introduced to the American market for $57,000 later this year. In California, where federal and state incentives exist to urge customers to buy zero-emission vehicles, its price will be $44,500.

Fuel cell vehicles are powered by compressed hydrogen gas instead of gasoline. The combination of hydrogen and oxygen in the atmosphere creates electricity that is stored in the drive motor that then powers the vehicle. While most cars running on electricity can run only up to 100 miles on average before needing a refill, the Mirai has a maximum range of 300 miles per hour.

Fuel cell vehicles, like gas-powered cars, need to be refilled with hydrogen for them to generate power. Unfortunately, the lack of hydrogen stations prevents Toyota from realizing its dream of a future filled with fuel cell vehicles zipping through the country's roads and highways.

By opening up its patents to other automakers, Toyota hopes to urge other car companies to invest in fuel cells and increase the demand for hydrogen gas refilling stations all over the country.

Aside from car manufacturers, fuel cell parts suppliers and energy companies will also be allowed full use of Toyota's fuel cell patents. As part of the agreement, Toyota also expects these companies to allow it to use their fuel cell patents as well, but it is not required of them.

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