UK risks ‘losing race in automotive battery technology’

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The last year has seen a record high in global patents filed for automotive battery technology as businesses worldwide race to secure the crucial technology needed in the electric car industry, says accountancy and business advisory firm BDO LLP.

According to World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) data, 3,400 global patents for automotive battery technology were filed in the past year, up 57% from 2,167 the year before.

BDO says that leadership in battery technology is likely to be one of the most powerful drivers of the automotive industry over the next decade.

“The move away from petrol, diesel and hybrid cars is now a question of when rather than if. Battery technology is likely to be one of the key battlegrounds in automotive in the 2020s,” said Tom Lawton, head of manufacturing at BDO.

“Carmakers, electronics companies and universities are all putting substantial resource into developing the technology that will enable vehicles to be compliant with new legislation and consumer sentiment. Battery electric vehicles could well be the default system in the near future, and manufacturers are gearing up for that.”

Of the 3,400 automotive battery patents filed worldwide with WIPO last year, only five were filed by UK entities compared to more than 2,500 by Chinese filers.

These figures place the UK outside the top 10 filers of global auto battery patents in the past year – not only behind battery technology leaders China, Japan and the United States, but also behind less-established automotive manufacturing countries such as India and Russia.

The Government is in the process of establishing a new UK Battery Industrialisation Centre (UKBIC) in Coventry, which aims to drive the commercialization of battery technology developed in the UK. The facility is being created with funding from the Faraday Battery Challenge, part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

“It’s crucial for the UK doesn’t lose out in the race to develop world-class battery technology. The UKBIC is a first step on that path. Building on the West Midlands’ long-established expertise in automotive manufacturing is the right move,” said Lawton.

The chemicals division of Korean conglomerate LG and Japanese electronics giant Toshiba were the global leaders in battery patents in the past year, filing 140 and 129 patents respectively.

Five of the top ten filers worldwide in 2018/19 were Chinese businesses, with the leader being BYD, a Xi’an-based producer of electric and hybrid cars, buses and commercial vehicles.

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