Lyft Files for IPO but Uber Still Leads in Patents

As part of our ongoing coverage of the ridesharing industry, we took a closer look at the patent portfolios of Lyft and Uber, especially in light of Lyft’s confidential S-1 filing. While Lyft has not disclosed its S-1, and will likely not until prior to its roadshow, public data seems to suggest that Lyft still has virtually no patents compared to its rival Uber.

We analyzed Lyft’s US patent portfolio, and identified 12 issued patents, and 20 published US patent application assigned to the company. Lyft had previously owned another two published patent applications which were subsequently transferred to Zimride, and ultimately to Enterprise Holdings.

In stark contrast, Uber’s US patent portfolio contains 497 patents, and another 262 published US patent applications.

Uber’s patent portfolio contains a mix of organic patents (i.e., originally filed-for by Uber), as well as patents obtained via acquisitions from third parties. It is noteworthy that all of Lyft’s issued patents and published applications were originally filed-for by Lyft, and the company does not have any publicly recorded patent assignments.

It appears that Uber took advantage of the IP3 patent purchase program coordinated through Allied Security Trust earlier this year. Uber acquired 22 US patents in 2018 that were previously assigned to “IP3 Series 100 of Allied Security Trust I”. In addition, Uber’s major third-party patent acquisitions include patents from large technology and telecommunication companies, including AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Bellsouth, Intel and Google.

Besides its largest patent acquisition from AT&T, Uber acquired over 40 patents from the autonomous trucking company Otto via a holding entity Apparate International CV.

The chart below shows the US patent application filing trends for Uber versus Lyft. Uber began filing US patent applications in 2009, the year it was founded, while Lyft began filing patents application in 2013, a year after it was founded in 2012. Uber’s patent filings have increased significantly year-over-year, peaking at 100 new US patent applications filed in 2016, and only a short dip to 98 patent applications in 2017.

Lyft, on the other hand, has filed new US applications in the single-digits each year since 2013, peaking filings with 9 new applications in 2016.

Since US patent applications typically publish 18 months after their earliest effective priority date, there may be a number of unpublished, more recently-filed patent applications owned by each company that are not yet public.

It will be interesting to see Lyft’s S-1, if and when it does become publicly available. The company’s patent portfolio could potentially be larger if it has recently acquired third-party patents, but not yet recorded those assignments with the USPTO. In addition, as just mentioned above, Lyft could potentially have unpublished patent applications in its portfolio.

Assuming, however, that the public patent data is a complete picture of Lyft’s patent assets, the company may be well advised to acquire strategic patents which may help defend the company in the face of a patent infringement suit by Uber.

To that end, one potential bright spot for Lyft may be its $500 million investment from General Motors. While this is pure speculation, Lyft could possibly have a license to the seminal Sidecar patent, US 6,356,838, which is currently assigned to SC Innovations Inc. General Motor acquired all of the Sidecar assets in 2016, and it is not clear how the ‘838 patent plays into that acquisition, or how that patent affects the relationship between General Motors and Lyft. SC Innovations recently filed an antitrust complaint against Uber a few weeks ago, but it does not appear that the ‘838 patent has been asserted against Uber or any other parties at this time.

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