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Autonomous Vehicles, IP, Regulations and Getting Safe Vehicles on the Road

Wednesday, September 6, 2017   (0 Comments)
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Q & A from the Spring Meeting in Washington D.C.

Who will be responsible for making autonomous vehicles a safe mode of transportation? That question, among others concerning this brave new world, was discussed at the LES Spring Meeting by a distinguished panel of industry experts: Chan D. Lieu, Counsel, Venable LLP, former Head of U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA); Justin Pierce, Chair of Intellectual Property Division, Venable LLP; Frank MacKenzie, Senior Intellectual Property Counsel Mobility, Autonomous Vehicles, Safety, and Electronics at Ford Motor Company, Ford Motor Company; John Carney, Director of Commercialization & Licensing, Delphi Automotive Systems, LLC, and Richard Lloyd as moderator, North America Editor, Intellectual Asset Management (IAM). 

Q. Why is there a need for autonomous vehicles?
A. Chan: In 2016, U.S. automotive deaths rose to 40,000 with 94% of those crashes caused by human error. If we can take humans out of the equation, a lot of lives can be saved; and in addition, we can provide the elderly, blind and disabled with transportation. We are already on our way to driving automation as seen in the chart below.


Here is what those levels represent:
Level 0: Driver only - No automation, driver responsible.
Level 1: Assisted - Cruise control, adaptive cruise control.
Level 2: Partial Automation - Combines two different aspects, such as TESLA autopilot and adaptive cruise control.
Level 3: Conditional Automation - Driver is not expected to take control until the car encounters detours or road construction.
Level 4: High Automation - All aspects of driving behavior are completed by the vehicle. There may be limitations from OEM; these may be environmental, such as cameras can’t see lane markings.
Level 5: Full Automation – This is the Holy Grail, removing all obstacles and limitations. The vehicle can perform in any driving environment.

Q. In terms of current regulatory, where do we stand and where are we going?
A. Chan: We are very early on the regulatory side. We need a document that defines what state and federal levels can do; but it should be an agency guide, not a regulation. An autonomous vehicle can take 7-8 years to develop and needs performance testing.
A. Justin: Look at IP filings. When you look at Levels 3-4 (see chart), there could be 25,000+ patents related to that area.
A. Frank:  When Ford has its autonomous vehicles, we will be well ahead of the regulatory area. Level 3 is particularly perplexing because it anticipates that there is something that the vehicle isn’t able to handle. It turns out that humans are less responsive than we thought. If there’s a ladder in the road, the human driver doesn’t have enough information in order to take the vehicle over. Ford decided to skip right over Level 3 because we think it is too challenging. That’s why Ford has opted to come out in 2021 with a Level 4 vehicle.
A. John: The technology is there and it’s waiting for the customers. An example is sensor and collision avoidance with sensors that create a 360 view around the vehicle. At CES we have demonstrated fully autonomous vehicle sensors.

Q: Is regulatory affecting life cycle in terms of the technology?
A. Chan: In 2013 a preliminary policy was issued with expectations of the industry. It outlines what states can do to usher in these laws. Its guidance, not regulation.
A. Justin: For the last 5-7 years, automakers have put a sustained investment in developing proprietary IP for autonomous vehicles.
A. Frank: There has to be building blocks for technology. On the platform side, there is acceleration and deceleration. The first building block was ABS, next was the throttle, and next was power steering pumps. We have to look at how these change the driver and experience?
A. John: When are the laws and when are the OEMs going to be ready? Technology is there, it’s just waiting for the other elements to fall into place.

Q. What will the public buy into autonomous vehicles? What are today’s challenges?
A. Chan: Consumer acceptance is going to be the biggest hurdle. OEMs will be sharing the data with NHTSA, so regulations can be developed.
A. Justin: Greatest challenge — are people going to play nice on the IP side? Are they going to get to the point where we have an ecosystem to improve? Much effort has been put into this area.
A. Frank: All the cards played are held close to the vest. If we are going to be successful, we need to create open standards. We all need to be playing together. No one knows what Apple is doing; no one wants to be seen as the old company from the past. Google and others have spurred us to move faster. Consumer acceptance is also a challenge. When I first got into an autonomous car I was terrified. People will get used to these new technologies. Level 2 (see chart) technologies will play a huge role into this level of acceptance.
A. John: Interoperability is going to be very important; the need is so strong.

Q. Considering the interplay between federal and state regulations, how will the states and federal government decide?
A. Chan: It is important that the federal government maintain the leadership role. There have been over 50 different pieces of legislation at the state level. If we don’t have harmonization between the states, that could be disastrous for deployment of autonomous vehicles.
A. Frank: This is an interesting topic because states can define their own standards. For example, California has different laws than other states. The federal government has a very important role in defining consistent standards.

Q. Looking at the IP side, what are the challenges that you see in the developing landscape?
A. Justin: You need to have interoperability; right now each company is coming up with its own IP. How do you come up with standards? There is a lot of investment in millions of lines of code. Right now we are in the early stages, lots of it is proprietary. If consumers are offered different systems, they will choose the best one for them, similar to the cell phone industry. There may be a roll out of IP pools to more technologies. Participating in a pool will be an advantage.
A. Frank: The ideal would be an effective patent pool that we could buy in to, so we don’t get into the cell phone wars. I think you will slowly see the desire to drive go away. There will be a future point in time when you won’t be able to get a driver’s license. Go back to the fact that there are 40,000 fatalities with 94% user error. I can see the federal government stepping in and saying that we need this technology now!

Q. How might this licensing arena change?
A. Justin: It’s early for the patent pool thing to work. If Google and Apple were to join a patent pool that would lower costs.
A. Frank: We’ve been very good and comfortable licensing on reasonable terms. Now there are virtual suppliers to deal with. I am concerned that there will be a step change. All tech companies will not succeed in autonomous vehicles. I am concerned about how licensing and IP agreements will succeed.


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