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There’s nothing new under the sun – a brief look at historical climate change patents – Part 4: Electric Vehicles


18th Nov 2021

Electric cars are the headline act in modern climate change technology. Glamourous innovative rock stars like Tesla are pushing the boundaries of innovation to enable us all to lose our dependence on the internal combustion engine. When did innovation in electric vehicles start? Quite a long time ago.

#4 – Electric Vehicles

Domestic transport was responsible for 27% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, highlighting the need for widespread adoption of electric vehicles, which are generally greener than their internal combustion engine counterparts. This is reflected by the COP26 goals, in which the switch to electric vehicles is cited as key to achieving global net zero by the middle of the century.

Early electric vehicles can be traced back to the first half of the 19th century, which saw breakthroughs in the development of electric motors. Looking at the cooperative patent classification code Y02T10/64 which covers ‘electric machine technologies in electromobility’, patents related to electric vehicles can be found with publication dates as early as 1890. For example, US patent 422,266 for an ‘electric railway motor car’ was granted to C. J. Van Depoele, the inventor of the trolley pole.

The Depoele patent relates to a car propelled by two electric motors, designed to act as a locomotive. This comes from the same time as the early motor cars.

Electric vehicles enjoyed widespread success for a short period of time in the early 1900s, before improved gasoline-powered cars led to a decline in popularity. US patent 802,632, published in 1905, was granted to Edwin R. Gill during this period for a ‘self-propelled vehicle’.

The Gill patent relates to an electric motor and wheel for an automobile, which aims to eliminate the need for gearing.

General interest in electric cars declined as the 20th century progressed because they were unable to offer the range necessary to keep up with improved road infrastructure. However, they were still of use in certain applications where their comparatively poor performance was not considered a problem. For example, US patent 2,571,180 was granted to Joy Manufacturing Company in 1951 for a ‘steering operated control mechanism for electric motor drives of vehicles’.

The patent relates to a series motor driven vehicle for transporting people, tools or materials through mine passageways. For navigating sharp turns, each wheel at the rear end of the vehicle has its own driving motor, a feature we are likely to see much more of in the future.

Today’s electric cars boast ranges of several hundred miles and there are over 45000 charging point connectors in UK. With the plan to end the sale of petrol and diesel cars in the UK by 2030, we can expect to see ranges further increase with improvements in batteries for electric vehicles. While electric cars are the transport of tomorrow, don’t forget that the concept is as old as the motor vehicle itself.

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.

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Olivia Buckingham
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Would you like to know more? You can talk to Olivia Buckingham who will be able to help. Call + 44 (0)1223 360 350

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