On-demand, rental electric scooters are seen as a way of easing the pressure on public transport systems during the COVID-19 crisis. Although e-scooters have been in the UK for some time now, e-scooter rentals only became legal on UK roads on 4 July 2020. Up until 4 July 2020, it was illegal to use e-scooters on any public road or footpath in the UK. Even with the change in the law, it is still illegal to use a privately owned e-scooter on a public road or a footpath in the UK. This article takes a look at the patent portfolios of some of the major players in e-scooter rentals.
Away from the COVID-19 crisis, e-scooters are seen as a solution to the so called “last mile” problem of transporting passengers between private residences (e.g. homes, bars and restaurants) and public transport systems (e.g. bus stops, railway stations and metro/subway stops) without use of private cars. Although walking is usually an option, evidence suggests that walking becomes undesirable if the distance to be travelled is over 400m. Solving the last mile problem and providing a joined-up transportation system may help to improve congestion and reduce pollution, particularly in a large city such as London.
The earning potential of dockless, on-demand e-scooters has seen the formation, acquisition and closure of a number of micromobility start-ups over the last few years, and has seen bike rental companies expanding their offering to e-scooters. Below is a summary of the current e-scooter patent portfolios of the some of the e-scooter rental companies that may be heading to the United Kingdom in the near future. It is important to note that patent applications normally only publish eighteen months after they have been filed and so some of these companies may have larger portfolios of unpublished patent applications.
Lime is an American transportation company based in San Francisco and it has been operating a dockless e-bike sharing scheme in the UK for some time now. Lime recently acquired Uber’s bike and scooter sharing service, Jump.
Lime files patent applications under the name Neutron Holdings, Inc. and it has nineteen families of published patent applications concerning e-scooter rentals.
US 2020/122802 A1, WO 2019/061877 A1, WO 2019/061878 A1, WO 2019/063011 A1, WO 2019/091395 A1, WO 2020/082089 A1 and WO 2020/019325 A1 all relate to various features of managing an e-scooter rental system, such as logistics, parking and charging.
WO 2019/218319 A1, WO 2019/218320 A1, WO 2020/064018 A1, WO 2020/064019 A1, WO 2020/064020 A1, WO 2020/070560 A2 are directed to physical features of e-scooters, such as the steering assembly or charging mechanism.
Bird is an American e-scooter company based in Santa Monica. Bird operates dockless electric scooters in a twenty-two European cities such as Barcelona, Lisbon and Paris. Bird has been operating e-scooter rentals in the Olympic Park in London since November 2018.
Bird applies for patents in the name of Bird Rides, Inc. and it has four families of published patent applications relating to e-scooters.
Tier is a Berlin-based e-scooter company that has over 20% of the global market share in e-scooter rentals. Tier has recently hired a UK General Manager so we could soon be seeing Tier e-scooters on UK roads.
Tier applies for IP rights in the name of Tier Mobility GmbH but it does not appear to currently have any published patent applications. However, Tier’s website does reference a pending patent application for “a smartbox with helmet recognition technology that contains a foldable helmet” so it is assumed that this patent application has not yet been published.
Voi is a Swedish e-scooter firm operating in 39 European locations. Voi has recently hired a head of UK, Ireland and Benelux operations and so Voi e-scooters could soon be coming to UK cities.
Voi files IP rights in the name of “VOI Technology AB”, but it seems that there are currently no published patent applications in that name.
Ginger is a UK-based company that, as of 4 July 2020, is operating the first e-scooter rental service in the UK. The first trial is taking place in Middlesbrough and it is expected to run for one year.
Ginger applies for IP rights in the name of “Ginger Teleporter Ltd” but it does not currently seem to have any published patent applications.
As can be seen from the above, there currently aren’t many published patent applications in the name of the major companies involved in e-scooter rentals. This may be because the e-scooter rental industry is still relatively new and any patent applications that have been filed may still be unpublished and so an updated search this time next year may reveal more patent applications. These companies also may be more focussed on setting up operations in new cities using existing e-scooters from third party companies, rather than on investing in research and development of their own vehicles and systems. We will look to review the situation next year, when we may see a lot more e-scooter patents.
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This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking any action in reliance on it.