Ford to License Inflatable Seat Belts to Other Automakers

DETROIT (Detroit Free Press/MCT) —

Ford Motor Co. is licensing its patented inflatable seat belts, part of an ongoing strategy of sharing intellectual property for a price to make technology more broadly available.

The inflatable seat belts, patented in 2008, were introduced in the 2011 Ford Explorer. They have since been added to the 2013 Ford Flex and Lincoln MKT and MKZ, and the 2014 Ford Fusion. Now they will be available on the 2015 F-150 pickup and other future models.

With patents pending on the third generation of the technology, Ford has decided to offer the original system to suppliers, rival automakers and for use in buses, military vehicles, airplanes, helicopters and even boats, said Chris Danowski, director of technology commercialization for Ford Global Technologies.

AutoHarvest, a nonprofit group that works to accelerate widespread adoption of new technologies, will post technical worksheets on the inflatable seat belts on its website, which is used by transportation manufacturers, including NASA.

“We are glad to be able to play a role in spreading this safety technology more broadly,” said AutoHarvest co-founder David Cole.

Ford owns about 25,000 patents in the U.S. and is a leading company in licensing technology. The automaker sells technology it no longer plans to use or licenses older versions of technology it still utilizes for a reduced royalty fee.

Danowski’s division licenses everything from drawings to logos to integrated keys and fobs.

“We are constantly looking at how to improve,” Danowski said, which means managing a steady stream of ideas, patents and new technologies making their way to the marketplace. “Our goal is not to withhold it, especially if it is related to safety.”

Danowski said Ford takes pride in making technology more available. Examples include the chiming seat-belt reminder and the air-bag deactivation switch on pickups, which many adopted as an industry standard. The money is reinvested in engineering of new technology.

“Ford’s long-standing commitment to democratizing technology goes beyond our customers,” said Bill Coughlin, CEO of Ford Global Technologies.

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