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Ahead of the Curve Auto Supplier Blog

January 04, 2017

Auto Trend: Infotainment System Patents Are on the Rise

The upcoming Consumer Electronics Show and the North American International Auto Show promise to unveil interesting new technologies from traditional automakers and relative newcomers. While many technologies will be certain to relate to self-driving cars, infotainment systems are likely to also share in the spotlight. 
For example, previous years have seen the introduction of CarPlay by Apple and Android Auto by Google. Already widely available in current model year cars, CarPlay and Android Auto enhance car infotainment systems by integrating familiar apps into the car’s built-in display. 
According to some estimates, the car infotainment system market is expected to double by 2020. What can recently published patents and patent applications tell us about trends in infotainment systems in 2020 and beyond?
Over the past two years, an estimated 280 patents relating to vehicle dashboard systems issued in the United States. An estimated 390 patent applications published in the United States during the same two year time frame. A cursory sampling of the patents and patent applications revealed some interesting insights for the future of car infotainment systems.
Integration with Autonomous Systems
A number of patents re-think the role of the instrument cluster during autonomous modes of driving. For example, Ford recently issued a patent (9272708) for technology that swaps media content from a center stack onto a dashboard, instrument cluster, rearview mirror or drop-down projector while a vehicle operates in a self-driving mode. 
Smartphone Control of Vehicle Systems
Recent patents also suggest smartphones will be increasingly integrated into vehicle infotainment systems. For example, Google recently issued a patent (9326089) for technology that allows a passenger’s smartphone to control an infotainment system in ways that are not available to the driver for safety reasons. The passenger’s smartphone may also assume limited control of the driver’s smartphone, for example to enter an updated map for the vehicle’s display. Also by example, Continental recently issued a patent (8818275) to provide passenger smartphones with direct control over vehicle systems, for example climate control systems and entertainment systems.
Adaptable for Multiple Users and Driving Conditions
A number of recent patent applications reflect a desire to differentiate from others in the marketplace by providing unique features for the end user. For example, a recently published Audi application (20160110148) provides a removable in-vehicle display that retains its function even while detached from the dashboard. A recently published Volvo application (20160327399) is directed to technology that varies music content based on anticipated driving conditions. An upcoming section of road requiring a high level of driver alertness may prompt “cognitively stimulating” music. 

While autonomous technologies are driving the headlines, vehicle infotainment systems are experiencing a fast pace of innovation that promises interesting advancements in the years to come. Suppliers should be quick to pursue patent protection to ensure each innovation retains its intrinsic competitive value in an increasingly crowded marketplace. Under the first-to-file framework in the United States, time is of the essence. Suppliers risk losing out to competition filing for patent protection first — even if the supplier was first to invent the new technology.

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