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Five Questions About IP Law, A...

Five Questions About IP Law, Automakers and A Driverless Future

We recently sat down with the newest addition to the CBW team, attorney Carlos Herrera, Former Chief IP Counsel for General Motors. Mr Herrera is a veteran of the automotive legal industry and has over 20 years of IP law experience with top-tier Global Fortune 500 companies.


Question 1: Carlos, in your opinion, what are the struggles traditional ‘incumbent’ automakers need to overcome?

CH: The traditional automakers are already well aware that the industry is changing at a very rapid pace and that competing in this new highly technical space require constant diligence of the customer’s expectations and the rapidly growing technology landscape. In my experience, the automakers are embracing the notion of thinking and acting with speed.

It’s an exciting time for the auto industry to exploit the intellect of their engineers and scientist to continue to provide safe transportation throughout the world. It’s equally important that the automakers aggressively protect their intellectual property with the same vigor of the high-tech companies to ensure they continue to enjoy their competitive position.

Question 2: What is the long term direction of the ‘auto buying public’, buying cars or buying transportation services?

CH: It wasn’t too long ago when buying a car, or several cars, was a goal for many of us for a number of reason and for some, purchasing a car was a symbol of financial responsibility.

However, I have noticed that there is a growing interest by a wider generation in avoiding the demands of maintaining a vehicle and related expenses. Our time is increasingly under demand and the autonomous transportation eco-system may provide the freedom many of us need and for many, the freedom will likely be a more valuable aspiration.

Regardless of whether there is ultimately a decline in sales, buying transportation services is likely to increase as vehicles become easily accessible, increasingly reliable with green technology and provide a customer focused experience.

Question 3: Do you see stop lights/stop signs done away with in full self-driving areas?

CH: Yes.  I can envision a transportation experience with an infrastructure that does not require stopping at all until you reach the final planned destination.

The concept of no traffic lights is not new. Traffic lights are eliminated in some cities today in what is known as “traffic circles” or “roundabouts” which keep the traffic moving safely through intersections.

The same concept should be attainable with autonomous vehicles as the technology improves that can detect and take necessary precautions to avoid obstacles.

As more and more cities adopt full-autonomous areas, it is important that companies consider including their IP counsels as early as possible in assessing any improvements made in the infrastructure that can be protected and perhaps leveraged in future partnerships or lobbying efforts.

Question 4: How will autonomous vehicles affect congestion?

CH: The potential communication capabilities of an autonomous vehicle could reduce or entirely eliminate congestion as we know it.

Vehicle communication between each other, and with city infrastructure, could eliminate unknown variables that a driver needs to assess in traffic.

Knowing in advance what detour to take to avoid delays is just one example of how vehicles help reduce congestion. The variables are endless on what can be developed to help avoid congestion with autonomous vehicles. These variables are often conceived and ignored as obvious only to be protected by others as road blocks to manufacturing.

An IP attorney should strongly advocate for focusing efforts in developing a “portfolio” of ideas that can be used to protect manufacturing and even the most obvious should not be overlooked as such ideas may result in an excellent defensive tool against allegations of IP infringement in the future.

Question 5: How will vehicle ownership patterns evolve as Millennial and Generation Z customers claim a greater share of mobility consumption?

CH: I think there will always be an interest in owning vehicles but transportation itself will certainly change. The changes will allow for a broader customer base that will want convenient transportation without the obligation of ownership.

The latest user-friendly technology will also be a big influence so owning a vehicle that will likely be outdated shortly after purchase is not likely to attract younger buyers.

The driver experience appeal is still alive and well but this is an era where protecting new valuable technology that addresses the needs, or appeal, of the growing high-tech mobility consumer should be of utmost importance.

This high-tech experience will require a great deal of financial resources to develop and will certainly yield aerodynamic and aesthetic features that should be protected in much the same way overall vehicle body designs have been protected in the past.

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