Since 2009 there has not been an upward trend in patent application filings in the ridesharing space, even though the industry has seen a tremendous increase in adoption and popularity in recent years.Last November, AllThingsD reported that ride-sharing and ride-hailing services Lyft, Uber, and Sidecar were close to “cloning each other”, as the companies offered similar services and features via their apps.
Envision IP analyzed the patent portfolios of various players in this space to understand which companies are actively innovating and seeking patent protection, versus companies that may simply be copying competing technologies.
Envision IP collaborated with Deltasight to create the below infographic of ride-sharing patenting activity among the popular providers over the last decade. With the exception of a single filing by Sidecar Technologies Inc. in 2000, filing activity was almost non-existent until 2009, when Uber Technologies filed 6 patent applications. Since 2009 however, there has not been an upward trend in patent application filings, even though the industry has seen a tremendous increase in adoption and popularity in recent years.
Sidecar received a patent (US 6356838) in 2000 related to routing a driver to a requesting passenger based on positional data associated with the passenger. Sidecar’s patent appears to be highly fundamental to this industry, and Sidecar is the only company among the group that owns an issued patent. The patent has 95 forward citations from later-filed patent applications owned by Microsoft, Research in Motion, Cisco, IBM, Sprint, General Motors, Honda Motor Co., Mitsubishi, Tom Tom, and Navteq.
In addition, there are two US patent applications naming Sidecar co-founder Sunil Paul as an inventor; US 20100228415 and US 20110313880, relating to reducing trip costs and selecting a driver based on location.
Uber has 11 pending, published US patent applications, the largest portfolio of the group of companies we analyzed. For example, Uber’s US 20140011522 describes a system for drivers to determine the the demand for rides in a given geographic area, along with the number of drivers currently servicing the area. Uber’s other published patent applications relate to ride pricing algorithms, user feedback systems, passenger ride scheduling, and providing passenger receipts via a mobile device.
RelayRide has two abandoned patent applications related to on-line ride scheduling systems.
Flywheel Software’s US 20130204676 describes a system that assigns points to drivers based on a driver’s “frequency of acceptance of customer requests for service, types of services accepted, and accurate execution of requested service”. Drivers with higher points are “allowed to engage in premium arrangements.”
RideCell’s US 20120239452 describes a fleet management system that matches passengers to available fleet vehicles, and where passengers can requests taxis via their mobile phones.
RideCharge’s US 20090030885 describes a back-end network and system for an on-demand and scheduled ride services. The patent application went abandoned in February 2012 for failure to respond to an office action.
Uber, founded in 2009, is the clear front runner in terms of patenting activity, and has filed patent applications on both driver-facing and passenger-facing aspects of ride sharing and taxi scheduling technology. However, Sidecar’s issued patent could be relatively valuable in terms of licensing potential, given its early priority date and broad claims.
We did not identify any published patent applications assigned to Lyft Inc. (previously Zimride Inc.), Hailo, LeCab, Ants, BlaBlaCar, Carma, CarPooling.com, Toogethr, or RideJoy. It is possible that these companies have pending US patent applications that have yet to publish.
In another note, Eclipse IP LLC, a patent holding company, sued Uber, Lyft, and RideCharge last September for patent infringement, demanding money and injunctions to shut down the car services. The case is currently pending.
Update March 12, 2014: After our original publication of this article, we were informed by representatives of the following companies that they own patents and applications that are not officially assigned at the USPTO:
RideCell (previously known as Summon and InstantCab) owns US 6697730, related to a real-time passenger and vehicle tracking/management system.