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Is the Apple car real? These patents suggest yes

About 250 automotive applications in two decades – a fraction of what it files in a single year, mind

Is Apple really getting into the automotive business? A joint investigation between Japanese financial publication Nikkei and Tokyo analytics company Intellectual Property Landscape found that Apple has filed patents – at least 248 of them – for everything from seats and windows to vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology that allows smart cars to talk to each other. 

"Now that the smartphone market has matured, Apple will likely target the automobile sector, if its patent applications are any indication," a Nikkei report on the study states.

The investigation found that Apple began filing vehicle-related patents in 2008 – only a year after the first iPhone was released. Those patents mainly focused on iPhone-to-car syncing and navigation, and led the way for Apple CarPlay, Nikkei wrote. 

In 2015 Apple launched "Project Titan" – widely believed to be related to an autonomous or electric car project. Apple filed more automotive-related patents in 2016 and subsequent years, which analysts Nikkei spoke with attribute to early successes in Titan's development. 

In addition to increasing the pace of its automotive patent filing, the investigation found that Apple had filed more than 30 patents with Intel since 2000, many of which "involve communications related to V2X and include patents frequently cited by other companies." Since 2020, only one patent has been filed jointly with Intel, Nikkei said. 

According to Akira Yamauchi, CEO at Intellectual Property Landscape, Apple's decision to distance itself from Intel relates to its shift to in-house chip production. 

Apple isn't going to stop at components, though. Yamauchi believes the company is on the path toward building an entire vehicle. "Unlike Google, which is specializing in self-driving technology, Apple is making patent applications with an eye toward developing its own vehicle," Yamauchi said.

Those patents include "components that will make driving and riding more comfortable," and an autonomous driving AI that can merge onto highways – something Nikkei said has challenged traditional automakers like Toyota. The Japanese auto giant has cited Apple's patents in its own filings. 

While 248 patents is a lot, it's worth pointing out how many patents Apple has globally: 72,054, of which 55,757 are active as of this month. 

Apple's patent filing volume has trended downward in the past few years, but 248 over 22 years still looks like a drop in the bucket. In 2020 – the most recent year for which full numbers are available – Apple filed 3,648 patent applications. ®

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