Henry Foy:

An arms race between manufacturers to dominate the future market for green cars has sent patent activity to record highs and sparked worries of an intellectual property war similar to that which has engulfed the smartphone industry.

Traditional automotive giants desperate to stay on top of the pile, technology-heavy upstarts and industry outsiders are battling for supremacy over future engines, fuels, safety systems and in-car entertainment in the most research-intensive period the car business has seen since the birth of the combustion engine.

Over the last five years, annual global patent grants for green engine technologies have doubled worldwide as carmakers battle to meet strict emissions and efficiency regulations, leading industry executives and legal experts to warn of an impending IP war.

“You’re seeing a resurgence of innovation in the industry… It’s a very competitive time,” the head of patents and innovation at a top ten carmaker told the Financial Times. “We’re sitting in the movie theatre eating popcorn watching what’s going on in the smartphone industry and thinking ‘How do we avoid that?’”