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January 09, 2015

Toyota said Monday that it's going to try to boost the market for hydrogen fuel-cell powered cars by opening up its patents to competitors.

It made the announcement in Las Vegas as technology world gathers for the Consumer Electronics Show is about to open.

Toyota says rivals won't have to pay royalties if they want to use any of its 5,680 patents globally that relate to fuel-cell stacks, high-pressure hydrogen tanks, fuel system software and hydrogen production and supply.

"We think fuel cells have the potential to become mainstream technology over the next 100 years," says Bob Carter, a Toyota senior vice president in the U.S. "By having more (automakers) and suppliers in on the development of fuel cells, we think this will help accelerate the adoption through the market."

Carter says the goal is to make fuel cells go mainstream. He compared the adoption of them to the company's fuel-saving gas-electric Prius hybrid, which took a few years to catch on with consumers.

The move comes as Toyota, Honda and Hyundai are introducing new hydrogen models to consumers. Toyota's model will be called the Mirai when it hits the market later this year. The cars are considered environmental wonders because they emit only water vapor. Even though costs of them have fallen, they remain costly to build and there few stations to refuel them.

The move is similar to one last year by electric car maker Tesla Motors, which opened up its patent book as well in hopes of building the market for plug-in cars. CEO Elon Musk told USA TODAY that there's been some interest.

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