Ford has filed a patent application for “Systems and Methods to Repossess a Vehicle.” Effectively, the application discloses an autonomous car that can repossess itself if the driver does not keep up with payments. The application was filed in 2021 and recently published. In the patent application, Ford describes limiting the vehicle’s functionality if the owner is delinquent on their car payments. For example, the application describes placing a “geofence” around the areas the car is “allowed” to go. The application also describes disabling other key features of the vehicle, such as climate control options, seat controls, or GPS systems. Another course of action described in the application is taking over the vehicle’s audio system to “emit an incessant and unpleasant sound every time the owner is present in the vehicle,” rendering the car too annoying to drive. More drastic measures are also described, such as commandeering the vehicle’s camera and sensor systems to help the creditor locate the car. And as a last resort, the self-driving features could be used to summon the car to a location of the creditor’s choosing.
Ford has commented they do not have any plans to deploy this technology and that their patent applications “aren’t necessarily an indication of new business or product plans.” However, the publication of patent applications and granting of patents can bring attention (good or bad) to a company’s intellectual property. As such, patent filers should consider the PR effects of their filings and alternative patent filing strategies, such as using non-publication requests.