Joby Aviation is widely regarded as one of the front runners in the race to bring eVTOL aircraft into commercial service. That said, over its 11-year history, the California-based company has also been one of the least transparent of the contenders, making it hard for observers to form an objective assessment of its progress and the depth of its intellectual property.
Credit is due to the Vertical Flight Society’s Electric VTOL News publication for shedding light on the extent of Joby’s patented technology. Its search last week of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) revealed that more than a dozen patent applications have been filed since December 2019 under the company name Joby Aero Inc. That corporate entity now has a total of 18 patent applications pending, and no fewer than six of these were filed in October 2020. The Delaware-incorporated firm appears to be the parent company of Joby Aviation.
USPTO records also show 10 patents already granted to Joby Aero between May 2014 and July 2020. A further 30 patents have been granted to Joby founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt and various other assignees. This far more complete picture of Joby’s patent portfolio refutes claims made by several rival companies to FutureFlight that the company lacked an adequate foundation of patented technology for the four-seat, all-electric eVTOL being developed under the designations S-4 or Joby 2.0.
The patent applications filed last month include ones for a “lightweight VTOL aircraft with pivoting rotors and wing box design,” an “aircraft control system and method,” a “battery thermal management system,” a “rotary airfoil,” and a “system and method for airspeed determination.” The oldest of the patents granted to JoeBen Bevirt and other assignees goes all the way back to 2000, although how direct a connection some of these have with the Joby venture established in 2009 is not completely clear.
Most of the patents still pending have been filed since the January 2020 announcement that Joby had completed a $720 million funding round, for which the Japanese automotive group Toyota was the main contributor with a $590 million injection. The patent treasure trove revealed by the VFS research team provides substance to the company’s bullish valuation, which had puzzled some outside observers.
Joby Aviation is one of eight announced partners for the planned Uber Elevate air taxi network, which is supposed to begin operations in the U.S. during 2023. It is also understood to be one of between four and six eVTOL developers to file type certification applications with the FAA.