Patents as the basis of innovation
Patents form the basis for the long-term and safe use of innovative developments. However, patent law is in a state of flux: In the past, Porsche’s main focus was on classic automotive technology – from chassis development to the combustion engine. Now, topics such as e-mobility, connectivity, autonomous driving and digitalisation are becoming increasingly important. Patents of relevance to today’s vehicle components are therefore no longer held exclusively by traditional car manufacturers, but also by companies from the fields of electronics and mobile communications. Artificial intelligence (AI) methods are also growing ever more significant.
The Porsche “Property rights and licences” department in Weissach has adapted accordingly and, among other measures, has added experts in AI to its ranks. The department carries out the foundational work for modern patent protection: In itself, software – a central component of today’s vehicles – is not classed as an invention and therefore cannot be protected by patent. This changes when fundamental concepts of a technical application are controlled by a new computer program. In other words, if software makes a technical contribution to solving a problem, it may be protected under patent law.
For example: Porsche has applied for a comprehensive patent for the calibration of control units with the help of AI. Sensors record the data of the device to be controlled – such as parameters for the shifting processes of a PDK transmission or for knocking noises in the engine – and transfer these to algorithms for evaluation. The AI process now independently searches for the optimal control unit setting by making adjustments to the transmission tuning or the ignition timing. It records when a gear change has become smoother or a combustion process has taken place without knocking, for example, and stores the corresponding setting value for optimisation of the processes.
Where developers previously had to rely on a laborious trial-and-error method, this technology achieves the optimal value independently and more quickly with the help of “AI-enhanced learning”. The method can also be applied in other technical fields. For patent lawyers, the concept of “technicity” is key. Because the technicity required under German and European patent law is applicable in this case, this type of method can be protected in a similar way to classic inventions in automotive engineering.
Technologies “Made in Weissach”
The Weissach Development Centre is the beating heart of innovation at Porsche. It is the company’s think tank. From the initial sketch to the finished prototype, vehicles have been developed, tested and prepared for series production here since 1971 with short paths between the individual specialist areas. Design, model construction and first prototypes, testing of aerodynamics, acoustics and electronics, development of drive systems, steering systems and chassis, safety tests and trials, its own test track as well as Porsche’s motorsport department – EZW brings together all of these elements.
The sports car manufacturer relies on traditional craftsmanship as well as state-of-the-art technology. Just under 6,800 people are employed at the site, around 80 percent of whom work in development. These employees are shaping change for Porsche, combining the brand’s traditional genes with the technologies of tomorrow, and creating new inspirational and emotive products time and time again.
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